Children's authors Mary Pope Osborne, of Magic Treehouse fame, and Natalie Pope Boyce speak at the Berkshire Athenaeum about writing.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Deep sea creatures, ninjas, Mayans, soccer, George Washington and World War II — these were just a few of the topics that children's authors and sisters Mary Pope Osborne and Natalie Pope Boyce used to capture the attention of an auditorium full of school-aged children in an ongoing effort to promote literacy locally.
About 100 children and adults gathered at the Berkshire Athenaeum on Tuesday to hear the writer of the acclaimed Magic Treehouse series and her older sister talk about the process they use in writing, focusing in particular on the distinction between fiction and non-fiction work and the bridge between the two, a connection mostly comprised of reading.
"We love research," Osborne told the kids. "We cannot write our books without reading lots and lots of books by other people."
This is the second visit to Pittsfield in recent months for the popular author, whose Magic Treehouse series briefly surpassed even Harry Potter on the bestseller list for a time, with more than 100 million copies sold and translations in 30 languages. She previously appeared at South Congregational Church in May, both events a collaboration with the Berkshire United Way's Pittsfield Promise
Osborne said arriving at the idea for the Magic Treehouse books, of which there are now 54 in print, was an arduous journey with several wrong turns. The author said when her publisher suggested she produce a series, she experimented with several different manuscripts and fictional devices before arriving at the now beloved formula of Jack and Annie and their time traveling treehouse.
"I worked on seven different books that didn't work," Osborne told the audience. "That's what it means to be a professional writer. You try again, and again, and again, and you rewrite, rewrite, rewrite."
Over the years, Osborne has enjoyed a healthy collaboration with older sister Natalie Pope Boyce, who has helped co-author many of the books books in a series of 31 nononfiction companions to the Magic Treehouse novels.
Boyce sprinkled the talk with interesting factoids from their research, including advice for surviving tigers from their companion book Magic Treehouse Survival Guide, sharing anecdotes of African villagers who wear masks on the backs of their head because tigers always attack prey from the rear.
"That's important information," Boyce joked, spurring delighted laughter. "If you just wear a mask on the back of your head when you're in tiger country, you'll be fine.
Osborne offered the crowd some insight into her next Magic Treehouse book due out this winter, "Danger in the Darkest Hour," a World War II adventure that represents a somewhat new direction in the series and is geared toward adolescent readers.
"It's a serious book," said Osborne, "It's twice as long as the others, and Jack and Annie will have a pretty dangerous mission to do in France."
Karen Vogel of Berkshire United Way told iBerkshires that Osborne has also donated $1,500 worth of books to local youth readers through the Pittsfield Promise program. Following the talk at the library, Osborne made stops at Silvio Conte Elementary School and Pitt Park in order to see some local literacy summer programs in action.