A story by F. Scott Fitzgerald that was rejected by The New Yorker in 1936 is running in the magazine this week after Fitzgerald’s grandchildren discovered it in his papers.
The story, titled “Thank You for the Light,” centers on a woman who sells corsets and who loves cigarettes but faces social disapproval for smoking. The woman, Mrs. Hansen, enters a church to smoke, not wanting to do so in public, and has her cigarette mysteriously catch on fire. The story is a page long.
At the time, staff at The New Yorker told Fitzgerald that running the story was “altogether out of the question,” according to the New York Times.
“It seems to us so curious and so unlike the kind of thing we associate with him and really too fantastic,” the editors said.
Fitzgerald had published other works, including three short stories, in the magazine previously. The story was rejected 11 years after “The Great Gatsby” was released. Fitzgerald moved to Hollywood soon after in 1937.
Check out the story here.
E-book consumers are becoming more diverse in their format preferences, according to a new report by the Book Industry Study Group (BISG). The percentage of e-book consumers who “exclusively or mostly” bought books in electronic format decreased from nearly 70 percent in August 2011 to 60 percent in May 2012 – that’s a 10 percent drop in exclusive e-reader usage in less than a year.
After the industry – and many readers – wholeheartedly jumped on the “e-“ bandwagon, why the drop? Are folks deliberately moving away from e-books? That doesn’t appear to be the case, according to study results. Instead, it seems, readers are simply becoming format agnostic. According to the BISG report, the percentage of survey respondents who had no preference for either e-book or print formats, or who bought books in both formats, rose from 25 percent in August 2011 to 34 percent in May 2012. In other words, readers don’t feel committed to one format or the other and are comfortable switching from print to electronic books.
The study also tracked device ownership, revealing that Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet has overtaken Apple’s iPad for the first time. Kindle Fire was on fire – ownership of that tablet grew from seven percent of respondents in December 2011 to 20 percent just six months later. By contrast, Apple’s iPad remained static at around 17 percent. (Ownership of other tablets remains pretty low, with only five percent of respondents owning a Barnes & Noble NOOK and eight percent reporting ownership of another Android-based tablet.)
“Device ownership is an important factor in predicting the future,” Angela Bole, BISG's Deputy Executive Director, said in a statement. “In previous studies, changes in levels of device ownership have presaged changes in e book buying behavior. One of the strengths of this study is that it can plot such evolution, preparing publishers for what e-book consumers want and expect from them next.”
As for us, we’re pleased with the news. As it is in society and in financial portfolios, we think diversity is a great thing in reading formats. Literature, and the ways in which one can experience it, is richer for having the diversity of formats – and we’d hate to see a reading future devoid of either format.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
Leave it to J.K. Rowling to dream up a way to make back-to-school season more exciting.
We’re betting gads of pint-size Potter fans will be lining up outside their classrooms on October 11, when Rowling will make a virtual tour of US classrooms via live webcast, the first opportunity for the author to answer readers’ questions live since her last book hit shelves in 2007. Through a Scholastic-organized webcast from the author’s home in Edinburgh, Scotland, Rowling will answer pre-submitted questions and discuss all things Potter, including the recently launched website, Pottermore.
The webcast is organized in conjunction with the first official Harry Potter Reading Club, an online portal geared toward educators, librarians, and parents, to encourage budding Potterphiles to read and to explore the world of Harry Potter. The site, which was launched with much less fanfare than Pottermore, appears to be geared toward younger readers.
Scholastic called it a destination for fans of Potter and a tool for parents and teachers to set up book clubs of their own.
“Scholastic has been in conversation with educators, librarians and other book lovers about ideas for bringing the Harry Potter books to new readers in exciting and different ways,” Ellie Berger, president of Scholastic Trade, said in a statement announcing the club.
“The Harry Potter Reading Club is a direct response to that feedback and provides an entry point through which the thrill of these books can be shared with new generations of Harry Potter fans both within and beyond the classroom.”
Though it’s far more basic than Pottermore, the Harry Potter Reading Club comes with some excellent resources for parents and children alike including a guide to starting your own Harry Potter book club, reading and discussion guides, pronunciation aides, a glossary of Hogwarts-related terms, and a cauldron’s worth of interactive activities relating to each of the Harry Potter books. Activities available for this month include a creative writing exercise in which writers must imagine they received a letter from Hogwarts, a “create your own wand” download, and a search for missing Potter objects. Scholastic has said it will add new activities each month. Bookmarks, stickers, and nametags are also available for download on the site.
The Harry Potter Reading Club also features links to purchase print or digital books, to Pottermore.
Consider the Harry Potter Reading Club and Rowling’s upcoming webcast your key to surviving the last weeks of summer with young readers – and a reason to look forward to another school year.
Find out more about the webcast here.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
Looking for a book to settle in with as you soak up the last of the summer sun? Each month, Amazon releases its list of the 10 books that its staff thinks are the best of the month. The August 2012 list includes everything from a nonfiction title about sleeping to a tale of poisonous cheerleaders.
“We get together about twice a month to ... yell at each other about what we liked and didn't like,” Sara Nelson, editorial director of books and Kindle for Amazon.com, said of the process of selecting the top 10. We talked with Nelson about the August list and what’s caught her eye this month.
The spotlight book for August is “The Light Between Oceans” by M.L. Stedman, the author’s debut novel, and Nelson said she thinks it’s one to watch for the upcoming month.
“We're really crazy about that book,” she said. “I expect that that's going to be a big player.”
“The Light Between Oceans” tells the story of a man who works as a lighthouse keeper on a remote island where he lives with his wife, Isabel. The two have tried to have a baby but have encountered only miscarriages. Then, one day a boat arrives on the island carrying a dead man – and a living baby. Isabel persuades her husband that they should keep the child and raise it as their own. That decision, however, proves to have consequences the couple could not possibly have foreseen.
“It's this very atmospheric book,” Nelson said of the novel.
Another standout in Nelson’s eyes is the novel “Dare Me” by Megan Abbott, who is the author of previous books “The End of Everything” and “Queenpin,” among other titles. “Dare” centers on cheerleaders in their senior year of high school who find their lives disrupted by a new coach.
“They make the 'Mean Girls' movies look like Disney,” Nelson said of “Dare.” “It's a dark book… I don't have a teenage daughter, but if I did, I'd lock her in the house.”
Nelson said the book “The Double Game,” a thriller by Dan Fesperman, also caught her eye in the fiction category. Fesperman is the author of such titles as “The Amateur Spy” and “The Warlord’s Son.” In “The Double Game,” an ex-journalist receives a mysterious note urging him to look into the life of a spy he once knew. The plot of “The Double Game” references many classics of the thriller genre, said Nelson.
“It's a book for people who love books like 'The Shadow of the Wind’ [by Carlos Ruiz Zafón],” she said.
In addition, Nelson said she was pleasantly surprised by the book “When It Happens to You,” a collection of connected stories by ‘80s star and Brat Pack member Molly Ringwald.
“This book is not a little ditty tossed off by a childhood actress,” Nelson said of the book.
For readers looking for a title more based in real life, Nelson recommends the memoir “Winter Journal” by writer Paul Auster, author of novels including “The Invention of Solitude" and "Sunset Park." In “Winter Journal,” Auster discusses his mother’s death and ruminates on what it's like to grow older.
“[It’s] intensely personal, very disturbingly personal in the sense that it's like he's talking to you,” Nelson said. “There's a kind of joyful acceptance of life and aging.”
(Check out a video of Auster recording the audio book below.)
She said the book “Double Cross,” by “Agent Zigzag” author Ben Macintyre, also appealed to her. “Double Cross" tells the story of the spies who made the D-Day invasion possible.
“It's one of those true life, war books that reads like a novel,” Nelson said.
“No one else in what he calls 'the land of the tin ear' can combine better sentences into more elegantly sustained demolition derbies than Vidal does in some of his best essays,” Thomas Mallon once wrote in the National Review.
Arguably, Vidal’s greatest accomplishment was not to be found among his 25 novels, Broadway plays, more than 200 essays, or even his National Book Award, which the acclaimed writer won in 1993 for his collection of essays “United States: Essays, 1952-1992.” Rather, writes the UK’s Guardian, “his greatest work was, perhaps, his life itself – an American epic which sprawled beyond literature to encompass Hollywood, Broadway, Washington and the Bay of Naples, with incidental roles for almost every major American cultural and political figure of the 20th century.” For who else “gave JFK the idea for the Peace Corps, was called in to rescue the script of Ben-Hur, ran unsuccessfully for both Congress and the Senate, and got into a fistfight with Norman Mailer.”
If nothing else, Vidal lived large – and never apologized for it.
Upon his birth in 1925 in West Point, N.Y., Vidal entered a life of power and privilege. His father was an aviation and aeronautics instructor at the US military academy at West Point and a founder of the airline giant TWA. His mother, a Broadway actress and socialite. His grandfather, Thomas Gore, a Democratic senator for Oklahoma. After completing prep school, Vidal skipped college and joined the Navy at 17, during which time he began writing his first novel. Vidal wrote “Williwaw” while on night watch on a supply ship in an Alaskan port. The title was inspired by the sudden, violent blasts of wind known as the williwaw that sweep down over the mountains and into the Bering Sea, where they can wreak havoc on a ship. The novel was published in 1946.
Vidal went on to write 24 more novels, including “The City and the Pillar,” his third novel which nearly squashed Vidal’s career (and incidentally, shot Vidal to fame) with its then-controversial openly gay character. His prodigious literary output also included the transsexual satire “Myra Breckenridge,” the memoirs “Palimpsest” and “Point to Point Navigation,” and the historical novels “Washington, DC,” “Lincoln,” and “Burr.”
Equally accomplished as a screenwriter, Vidal wrote more than 30 original scripts for film and television throughout the 1950s, which culminated in two Broadway hits – "Visit to a Small Planet" and "The Best Man" – and his role rescuing the script of Ben-Hur. Vidal even acted, taking roles in “Fellini’s Roma,” “Gattaca,” and “Bob Roberts.”
Of course, in life Vidal recognized no limits and the next decades saw the formidable writer enter the political ring. He ran for office as a Democrat in upstate New York in 1960 – under the slogan “You’ll get more with Gore” – and narrowly lost the staunchly Republican district (calling for recognition of Communist China may have had something to do with his loss). In 1982, Vidal made a bid for the Senate seat in California. That, too, he lost.
In between, Vidal lived in self-imposed exile in Ravello, Italy, for more than 30 years with his partner Howard Austen, whose 2003 death Vidal wrote about in his second memoir, “Point to Point Navigation.”
Vidal, who claimed to have slept with thousands of men and was in a relationship with Austen for five decades, always rejected attempts to categorize himself – or for that matter, anyone else – by sexual orientation. “There are no homosexual people, only homosexual acts,” he is said to have responded to questions.
Vidal, who once said he had “met everyone, but knew no one,” was “among the last generation of literary writers who were also genuine celebrities,” according to NBC News. Among his friends were Tennessee Williams, Orson Welles, Truman Capote, Frank Sinatra, Jack Kerouac, Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Eleanor Woodward, and a collection of Kennedys, many of whom are found in anecdotes woven throughout his works. Vidal counted former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and former US Vice President Al Gore among his relatives.
Throughout life, Vidal was known as an outspoken commentator whose quick wit, acerbic tongue, and overall fearlessness garnered him a large audience.
He riled the country when he said “Americans who died on 9/11 were as much victims of US foreign policy as victims of terrorism,” as USA Today reported. He also took as a personal affront George W. Bush’s “stolen election” from Al Gore in 2000 and called the Bush administration “incompetent.”
“I've had hard targets in my lifetime, I've taken on general superstitions, but that's what writers do,” Vidal once said of his controversial comments. “So I certainly wouldn't have changed my modus vivendi one bit.”
Vidal won the National Book Award in 1993 for his collection of essays “United States.”
Vidal said he hoped to be remembered as “the person who wrote the best sentences of his time.”
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
It’s like déjà vu all over again. Another bright young writer. Another esteemed publication. Another rapid ascent to the pinnacles of the literary world. Another chance discovery of some missteps, followed by a deeper investigation, followed by a devastating admission of fabrication, and a humiliating resignation from said esteemed publication.
And now Jonah Lehrer. The 31-year-old bestselling author, popular speaker, and staff writer for The New Yorker resigned from the prestigious publication Monday after admitting to fabricating quotes in his most recent bestselling book “Imagine: How Creativity Works.”
It was, as the New York Times put it, “one of the most bewildering recent journalistic frauds,” in which Lehrer fabricated quotes from Bob Dylan, one of the most reclusive and closely studied musicians in history – not to mention one who is still alive. (What’s more, a good portion of “Imagine” relies on Dylan’s approach to creativity. The first chapter of the first section is titled “Bob Dylan’s Brain” and centers on the singer-songwriter’s hesitation to parse his own creative process.)
By now, we know the story. Self-described Dylan obsessive and writer for Tablet Magazine Michael C. Moynihan puzzled over the origin of some of the Dylan quotes in Lehrer’s book, quotes like, “'It’s a hard thing to describe,' Bob Dylan once mused about the creative process. 'It’s just this sense that you got something to say.'" He communicated with Lehrer, received bogus lies in response, and finally, an admission to fabricating the quotes. The falsification was revealed on Tablet’s website, Lehrer resigned from The New Yorker under editor David Remnick’s advice, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt pulled every copy of “Imagine” it could find from bookstore shelves and e-book sites, and statements were issued all around.
“The lies are over now,” Lehrer said in a statement to the New York Times. “I understand the gravity of my position. I want to apologize to everyone I have let down, especially my editors and readers.”
He added, “I will do my best to correct the record and ensure that my misquotations and mistakes are fixed. I have resigned my position as staff writer at The New Yorker.”
Editor Remnick said in a statement, “This is a terrifically sad situation. But in the end, what is most important is the integrity of what we publish and what we stand for.”
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt said Lehrer had committed “a serious misuse” and promised to “explore all options” and recall print copies of “Imagine."
The 31-year-old Lehrer graduated from Columbia University with a degree in neuroscience and received his masters at Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes scholar. He began his popular “Frontal Cortex” blog at Wired, where he explained complicated scientific principles and processes in a snappy, culture-oriented approach in the fashion of Malcolm Gladwell. His popular blog then moved to The New Yorker’s website, where Lehrer commenced to write six articles for the magazine. Along the way, he wrote three bestselling books: “Proust Was a Neuroscientist,” a surprise hit published when Lehrer was just 26, “How We Decide,” and the now-marred “Imagine: How Creativity Works.” Lehrer had just become a staff writer for The New Yorker in June 2012 before his late July resignation.
Monday’s revelation wasn’t the first. In June, Lehrer was criticized for the awkwardly named offense of self-plagiarism, recycling his own past material in blog posts for The New Yorker. And according to Moynihan’s article in Tablet, questions were raised as early as Lehrer’s first book, “Proust Was a Neuroscientist,” in which the young writer was accused of plagiarizing a paragraph from Malcolm Gladwell. Even “Imagine” was criticized for “many elementary errors,” for “borrowing (heavily)” from economist Edward Glaeser, and for its “inaccurate, misleading, or simplistic” exegesis of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” according to the Tablet article.
The question, of course, is what leads a person, and a bright, promising, successful writer at that, to commit such colossal misjudgments, such bald-faced lies, such stupid audacity? Even as he saw his predecessors – similar rising stars – fall for the same lies?
As Jayson Blair, of New York Times fabricating fame, wrote for The Daily Beast, “Part of Jonah Lehrer’s problem had to be his success … success, of course, brings with it the pressure to make each new publication better than the last.”
And for this pressure, writes Roxanne Gay of Salon.com, the media and its breathless adoration of the boy wonder, is to blame. “Consider,” she writes, “how journalists have referred to Lehrer. At NPR, he is a “superstar science writer.” At Tablet, Lehrer is referred to as a “celebrated journalist.” In a Boston Globe article, Lehrer is a “rising star.” The New York Daily News refers to Lehrer as a “promising young pop-science writer.” In the Chicago Tribune, Lehrer is a “seemingly prodigious young writer.” The Atlantic calls Lehrer a “wunderkind writer.” The lavish descriptors go on and on and on as journalists try to find just the right words to capture Lehrer’s promise, his genius, his place as prodigy, to remind us that in that young man, there is (was) greatness.
“The question isn’t really why did Lehrer fabricated those Dylan quotations and then lie about it nor is the question why did he plagiarize himself time and again in his highly visible position as a staff writer for The New Yorker,” Gay writes. “The question that intrigues me most is how this happened at all, how Lehrer was elevated to a position of such prominence. Are we that enamored by bright young things that they can act with impunity?”
This, we imagine, is only the beginning of the agonizing soul-searching that will follow. For writers like Gay, for Lehrer’s readers, for The New Yorker. And of course, for Lehrer himself.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.
US Olympic archer Khatuna Lorig, who trained “Hunger Games” star Jennifer Collins to use her bow and arrow to play Katniss Everdeen in the film version of Collins’ first book, said she has seen a huge rise in public awareness of the sport.
American archer Brady Ellison, who is competing in the Olympics, said that he had seen a rise in the sport’s popularity in the US after “Hunger Games” and the release of “Brave,” the new Pixar film about a Scottish princess who loves using her bow and arrow.
“I do feel like this year that with all the movies and stuff that has come out, especially in the States, we are getting a lot more recognition for the sport,” Ellison told the Tribune.
Archery USA, a national group, even wrote a letter to author Collins, thanking her for bringing the sport into the limelight.
“When Katniss Everdeen started brandishing her bow and arrows on movie screens across America, our phones began (literally, began) ringing nonstop,” the letter read.
Peter Jones of the Governing Body of the sport of archery in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, told the Guardian that in the United Kingdom, “Hunger Games” hasn’t had as much of an effect on the sport’s popularity, but that the breaking of two world records by South Korean athlete Im Dong-hyun was bringing archery to the public’s attention again.
“It's a great sport for the family to do together,” he said of the activity’s appeal. “Absolutely anyone can do it.”
Popular Irish writer Maeve Binchy died yesterday at the age of 72, prompting tributes from her country’s leaders and fellow writers.
Binchy, who published her first book, “Light a Penny Candle,” in 1982, wrote most often about life in small towns in her native country. She was born in Dalkey in County Dublin and worked as a teacher and journalist before becoming an author, working as a writer, columnist and editor for the Irish Times and later working as the London editor. “Penny Candle” was followed by 14 other novels and various short story collections, plays, novellas and nonfiction works.
“We have lost a national treasure," Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said in a statement.
President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins noted Binchy’s versatility.
“She was an outstanding novelist, short story writer and columnist, who engaged millions of people all around the world with her fluent and accessible style," he said in a statement.
Writer Ian Rankin said he considered her a huge literary presence.
“Maeve Binchy was a gregarious, larger than life, ebullient recorder of human foibles and wonderment,” he tweeted.
Binchy was often self-deprecating about her work, according to the Telegraph.
“I was very pleased, obviously, to have outsold great writers,” she said. “But I'm not insane – I do realize that I am a popular writer who people buy to take on vacation.”
In an interview with the Guardian, she stressed the importance of simplicity in writing.
“Always write as if you are talking to someone,” she said. “Say someone cried – don't say: 'tears coursed down her face.' Take it nice and easy, don't try to impress.”
You thought it couldn’t be done?
The extended movie trailer for “Cloud Atlas” was leaked online – and though it may yet be too soon to tell – word is, the motion picture adaptation of the intense, centuries-spanning novel is extraordinarily stunning.
IndieWire called it “staggeringly ambitious” and “visually impressive.”
The Wall Street Journal noted that the nearly 6-minute trailer, which debuted on Apple’s website Thursday, was such a hit it bumped “Cloud Atlas” from 2,509 on Amazon’s best seller list to No. 7 in record time. Random House has ordered 25,000 new paperbacks to meet the renewed interest. Not so unusual for a movie version of a book to stimulate fresh interest in an old title. But a mere trailer? Now that’s impressive.
As is the trailer.
Lana and Andy Wachowski – the sibling duo behind “The Matrix” – and Tom Tykwer are behind the “and-you-thought-it-couldn’t-be-done-transformation” of David Mitchell’s acclaimed bestseller. The film, which weighs in at 164 minutes, stars an eclectic cast including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, Bae Doona, David Gyasi, Susan Sarandon, Keith David, James D’Arcy, and Hugo Weaving.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the book and why this trailer is so impressive, consider this: “[A]uthor David Mitchell’s dense, centuries-spanning novel ... tells six separate but interlocking stories starting in the South Pacific in the 1800s and progressing to a dystopian future with genetic clones,” writes the Los Angeles Times. Among the “disparate worlds that the directors have created,” writes IndieWire are “a Pacific sea expedition in the 19th century, Belgium in the 1930s, San Francisco in the 1970s, London in the present day, Korea in a dystopian future, and Hawaii at the end of time.”
The 2004 novel tells the mind-bending stories of six narrators across time and space whose stories and histories are connected and whose actions impact one another’s destinies. The novel won the British Book Award’s Literary Fiction Award and was shortlisted for the 2004 Booker Prize.
“As big fans of the book, we've wondered for some time if the filmmakers would be able to come anywhere close to its material, but we have to confess that this is pretty stunning, for the most part,” writes IndieWire. “The production values look incredibly high, the scope and ambition and variety is like nothing else we've seen in a long time, and the cast, aided by some excellent make-up, look to be rising to the occasion.”
If the trailer generates this much interest, we’re eager to see the impact of the actual film – on audiences and of course, in the resurgence of interest in the original novel.
“The experts all said it was too complicated,” Lana Wachowski told the LA Times.
So far, it seems the adaptation has exceeded all expectations.
A tiny wooden structure just for you, filled with books and toys, nestled in the branch of a big sapling with the wind rustling through the leaves. What could possibly improve a treehouse?
Just ask children's fiction protagonists Jack and Annie. The stars of Mary Pope Osborne's Magic Tree House series are the possessors of just that, a magic structure that they use to travel through time and space and embark on adventures. The series currently consists of more than 40 books, including the newest, "A Perfect Time for Pandas," which was just released on July 24. The first 28 books follow Jack and Annie and their travels through time, while the rest center on the characters meeting up with famous wizard Merlin, who gives them tasks to accomplish as they go to each time period.
The series also consists of Fact Tracker books, nonfiction titles which delve into topics covered in the books such as dolphins and ancient Egypt.
The "Tree House" books have been adapted into a stage musical, co-written by Osborne's husband Will Osborne, and the book "A Good Night for Ghosts," in which Jack and Annie meet jazz musician Louis Armstrong, will be the basis for a musical titled "Magic Tree House: A Night In New Orleans," also co-written by Osborne, that will premiere at the James Moody Democracy of Jazz Festival in Newark in October.
Author Mary Pope Osborne, who recently donated 28-book sets of the series to every third-grade student and teacher in Newark, N.J., discussed how she settled on a treehouse as a mode of transport, how she hopes to inspire kids about history, and which of the books young readers love the most. Here are excerpts of the interview.
Q: How did the idea of a magical treehouse come to you?
A: I'd tried many things to get kids back in time: a magic cellar, magic whistles, magic artist's studio, magic museum. Nothing was working and I was really about to give up after a year. I was walking through some woods in Pennsylvania near a cabin that Will [Osborne] and I used to have, and we saw an old treehouse that was all rickety and pretty well run-down. We started talking about, "What if I put the characters in a treehouse?" Because then it would always be hidden up in the trees and they could travel anywhere with stuff in it. Finally, that night, we thought it'd be cool to have the treehouse filled with books, because books are magic. The moral of the story is the simplest ideas are the hardest to find.
Q: After graduating college, you traveled with a group of other young people to various locations like Iraq and Pakistan and India – how did doing that traveling affect your writing of the series?
A: I was a vagabond, and what I realized was it was a lot safer to stay at home and be a vagabond. By writing the series, I got to indulge all my travel passions and still be home in time for dinner. [Through the books] I had been to or will travel to a lot of the places, but without a backpack anymore and without risking my life.
Q: What do you think it is about Jack and Annie that appeals so strongly to children?
A: Jack and Annie are ordinary kids, but they're really good kids. They're always trying to help others and they're very supportive of each other. They have a sense of humor, but they love reading and learning and they have great compassion for animals and people who need their help. The series is in over 100 countries, 33 languages, and [the kids] all identify with Jack and Annie. I find that so encouraging.
Q: You've said before that Jack and Annie's relationship is in some ways based on your own relationship with your siblings?
A: Yes, I have wonderful siblings. They're still my best friends. We were all raised in the military so we had to rely on each other. We moved almost every year or two, so we really bonded, and one of the things that we most enjoyed doing together was games of make-believe. We were reenacting Peter Pan and creating forts and spy networks – whatever. Of course, we didn't have computers, watched minimal TV. We read books, but we just lived outside. I think a lot of the impulse from the treehouse comes from an attempt to relive some of that joy, that freedom that we had.
Q: Is there a particular Magic Treehouse book that your fans bring up often when they meet you?
A: Of the first 28, "[Tonight on the] Titanic" is popular, and also "Dolphins at Daybreak." Of the next 20, the one that was so immensely popular was "Dragon of the Red Dawn." That had a great cover with a dragon. We spend a tremendous amount of time thinking about covers and titles and sort of trying to get the kids over the bridge into some meaty subject matter, but still sensationalize the covers a little bit to try to bring them in.
I just want the books to be a stepping-off point. I just want [readers] to go, "I now know a very little bit about Leonardo Da Vinci, I'm going to go learn more." And one way they can learn more is our Fact Tracker series, the nonfiction. My ideal is they read our fiction, read our nonfiction, and then, if they still are interested, they go and read more difficult books about the subject. And they'll always own it. When they really hear about Shakespeare when they get to their teens, they'll feel they're already friends with Shakespeare, or any of these – Mozart, Louis Armstrong. That imprints so much when you're seven and eight.
Q: When you recently donated the 28-book sets to every third grader and teacher in Newark, how did that idea come to you initially?
A: We're going to do a show in Newark next year based on the Treehouse on Louis Armstrong. It's going to premiere at the Jazz Festival. So it was my plan to give one book to every child – then every fourth grader – and probably try to do it before school was out, so they could read it over the summer. And then I came across a report, and I was so stunned by the need for third graders to read that I thought breezily to myself, I should give 28 [books]. So I called someone and said, "How many third-graders are there?" and there's like 4,300 third-graders. Will loved the idea and we said, "Let's just do it."
Prior to that, in the winter, we launched our new Classroom Adventures [program]. We spent the last two years, almost, with a team of teachers – we hired them ourselves – of giving teachers free information on how they can use the books in the classroom to enhance their core curriculum, and then we have a component of that, the Gift of Books, for Title 1 schools. We started giving away books in January through this program, and we were giving 2 or 3 sets to a classroom, any that applied and met the requirements. We'll get some feedback, hopefully by autumn, about whether this did work, whether it raised the scores, and if there's any way to quantify if it really helped the kids. If it didn't, this was still a joyous thing to do. We would do it all over again.
Q: Will the "Night in New Orleans" musical have a life beyond the Jazz Festival?
A: It'll go to all the fourth-grade classrooms in the city, and it'll be at the Performing Arts Center. And then beyond that – we haven't even looked beyond that, but we want it to have a long life. And our dream is that, of course, it gets to New Orleans, and that'll probably be the next big stop.
Q: Is there any news about the Magic Tree House musical?
A: We're planning to take it out again in 2014. Meanwhile, we'll be running the Louis Armstrong show and we have a wonderful new partnership with a group called MTI that's turning Magic Tree House plays into school plays that just kids can do. We'll be launching a lot of theater projects in the next two years. Live theater ignites imagination as much as reading books does.
Q: What do you have planned for future Tree House adventures?
A: I do them in quartets. The next four are "Crazy Day with Cobras," "Dogs in the Dead of Night," and then "Abe Lincoln at Last!," and then the one that's coming out late this summer is "A Perfect Time for Pandas." And then after that is "The Stallion in Starlight." And my sister's working on the nonfiction [Fact Tracker book] to go with that. She's done the nonfiction for the last 19 or 20.
Q: How did that collaboration come to be?
A: It started with my husband Will – he wrote eight of the nonfiction. And then he wanted to turn his attention to the theater projects. So we called up my sister, who's a wonderful writer, and we handed the nonfiction over to her. And they do it totally by themselves, even though my name's on the cover, because I'm working so hard on the fiction. And we just have so much fun because we do book tours together, and the three of us are sort of a wild trio on the road. It's just so much fun. It used to be kind of lonely to go on these book tours by myself, and now I always have one of them with me. It's just a vacation.
I owe everything to teachers, the ones who really got this series off the ground years ago by using it in classrooms.
The teachers have done so many incredible projects with the books. I have volumes of pictures and projects. That's why we have a "Magic Tree House" teacher of the year every year. The teachers are the key to this.