Let's continue learning about writing nonfiction from author, Natalie Pope Boyce!
As you might remember from our previous blog, Natalie has written over 38 Magic Tree House Fact Trackers with her sister, Mary. The nonfiction books serve as companions to many of the fiction books in the series and act as a reader’s guide that delves into complex subjects from the series and transforms them into simple concepts that young children can understand. They give children an appreciation for the wonders of the “real” world and inspire a curiosity for learning more about history and natural science.
Below is the first half of an interview conducted with Natalie by our partner in promoting literacy, FirstBook.org, in November of 2017.
What is the most challenging part about writing nonfiction?
My biggest challenge is to make sure that children understand what I’m telling them. And to make sure the information is accurate and interesting. I have a phalanx of excellent people who triple check everything. They include a very smart editor; experts in the field who are usually academics: plus a team of very tough copy editors. I am so lucky to have all of them, but at times, the amount of information that needs to be simplified and the restrictive vocabulary that is appropriate for young children, make writing a slow process fueled only by cups of strong tea.
How many hours or days, on average, go into writing a Fact Tracker?
I write a lot, sometimes six to seven hours a day, if a deadline is looming and two to four hours a day if I’m circling the airport. Normally I write a book four or five times before I send it to my editor. She’ll send it back with her edits and we repeat the process two or three times until we get it right. But there are breaks between books and times I relax when my poor editor is working on the manuscript trying to figure out what I’m saying.
What’s the most surprising, unexpected thing you have learned while writing?
I’ve learned so many fascinating things but I’m always bowled over when the book is about the natural world. The intricate and complicated ways that animals behave have been amazing revelations for me. In the book on China, for example, I got totally side tracked on silk worms and bored everyone for days about them. No one invites me to dinner parties anymore. (Did you know that by distributing their weight, polar bears can get themselves over just three inches of ice?)
Do you ever find while researching a topic that you have strayed into another area equally as interesting? If so, do you then try to incorporate your discoveries into your books?
I often get side tracked and stray from the topic. Once, when I was doing Leonardo Da Vinci I got carried away with a description of his clothes (he was very fashionable and always chose bright colors) and started reading about 15th century fashions and make up and manners etc. Got lost.
Do you enjoy reading in your spare time? What type of books do you like to read?
I read a lot. Our whole family does. I am mostly disappointed with modern fiction, and tend to read more nonfiction. Am currently in love with cozy and brilliant English country writers like Ronald Blythe (Mary’s recommendation) and Robert McFarland. My son is a fine poet and, because of his enthusiasm, I have become reacquainted with poets I loved when I was younger and find that it’s not hard to wander away with them.
What else do you enjoy doing in your free time?
In my spare time, I love to be with friends and family. Also I have a garden, a dog, cooking, my church, and an old house to take care of . My deepest joy circles around all of these things.
Which Magic Tree House Fact Tracker was the most challenging for you?
One Fact Tracker that I found challenging was “Texas” which is a companion to Mary’s book on the great Galveston hurricane of 1900. It was a difficult book to write because the state’s history begins in the 1500s; six different flags have flown over the state; and everything is rather complicated. But what an amazing story Texans share!