Nightstand | Mary Pope Osborne
Last month, after hearing that 62 percent of the 4,300 third-graders in Newark, N.J., do not read at grade level, Osborne made a visit to drop off a 28-book set for each student in third grade as well as their teachers. That adds up to more than 120,000 books. "I did it because it is important to get books to kids,'' said Osborne, 63. This July marks 20 years since the University of North Carolina graduate wrote her first Magic Tree House book, Dinosaurs Before Dark. For those unfamiliar with the much-loved series (100 million copies have been sold worldwide), Osborne's characters, Jack and Annie, frequently become time travellers with help from their tree house in Frog Creek, Pa. In July, Osborne will release her 48th book in the series, A Perfect Time for Pandas.
What's on your nightstand?
The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock. It's about a woman who lived in the 1700s who made these incredible flower collages. I read a review of it, and it sounded intriguing. It turns out it's delicious, the way she looked at the world.
I'm also reading Aleksander Wat's My Century. It concerns interviews with the Bolsheviks and the Nazis. It sounds funny because it's a serious topic, but it is pleasure reading, not for work. I'm interested in Eastern European history.
What was your most challenging book to write, the one that you were concerned the kids wouldn't grasp because of the subject?
I choose sophisticated topics, and I'm aiming toward early readers, so I'd say many times that has happened. It's been a challenge. I remember once I asked a class of children to raise their hand if they'd be interested in a book called Show Time With Shakespeare. Don't you know, nobody raised their hand. So, I thought about what children would relate to. I came up with stage fright. I changed the title to Stage Fright on a Summer Night and had a great time writing it. Jack and Annie, the characters, were cast as fairies in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Jack is the one that gets a case of stage fright, and through their experience on stage I introduce "Will.'' That's an example of how when you write for kids sometimes it's a case of taking the child across the bridge, and then once they get hooked, they absorb so much.
Piper Castillo, Times staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.