Three authors well-known to booksellers and one debut author celebrated for her work on another stage share the spotlight at this morning’s Children’s Book and Author Breakfast. Octavia Spencer, who won an Academy Award for her role as Minny in The Help, will act as master of ceremonies. Joining her on the podium are Mary Pope Osborne, Rick Riordan, and Veronica Roth.
Octavia Spencer has long dabbled in writing, and notes that she has “volumes of unfinished things on my computer.” One story that she did finish is Randi Rhodes, Ninja Detective: The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit (Simon & Schuster, Oct.). The novel launches a series of middle-grade mysteries, a genre Spencer loves to read. “I love mysteries because I am a puzzle person and that’s what mysteries are,” she says. “They also help one develop deductive reasoning skills, which is a great thing. Everything I do as an actor is in fact a mystery—I try to discover the truth about the character I’m playing. So I gravitated toward mysteries in my writing, too. I think mysteries are a great way for kids to learn.”
The author didn’t have to search far to create the characters for her series, which stars a girl who sets out to crack the case of a valuable time capsule that goes missing in her Tennessee town. “Every one of the kids in the book represents some facet of who I am,” she explains. “Randi recently lost her mother, and I lost my own mom at 18. I understand that sense of loss, and also her feeling of not fitting in. All three kids in the book are misfits—and I was also a geek—and they all think they’re the odd kid out, but don’t realize that others feel the same way, too. This novel gave me a chance to revisit some very formative years of my life.”
A devoted reader of children’s books (“I buy one or two of them every time I buy adult books,” she says), Spencer notes she was honored to be invited to participate in today’s breakfast program. “I’m thrilled, excited, and scared to death,” she says. “It is such a privilege to be included in a group of writers I emulate, and who touch the lives of so many children, especially those who don’t have the resources to go to the movies or theme parks.” Spencer will sign ARCs of The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit this morning, 11 a.m.–noon, in the S&S booth (2638–2639).
Mary Pope Osborne arrives at BEA to celebrate the forthcoming release of her 50th Magic Tree House novel, Hurry Up, Houdini!, due in July from Random House. Osborne’s interest in what she calls “other realities” inspired the series 21 years ago. “I began to think, ‘What if I could travel through time with a couple of kids?’ ” she recalls. “It took me a about a year to come up with the tree house. I first tried writing about other magic things, but none was really working. Then one day my husband and I were walking through the woods and saw an old abandoned tree house. By nightfall, I had the Magic Tree House.” That was a lucky discovery in those woods. The Magic Tree House novels and their Magic Tree House Fact Tracker spinoff nonfiction series have sold more than 100 million copies in North America alone.
The author believes she has found the ideal career. “As a children’s book author, I get to be a professional dreamer,” she says. “I literally spend my life living in alternate realities. In Hurry Up, Houdini! I got to be in Coney Island in 1908. For my next book, High Time for Heroes, I got to meet Florence Nightingale in Egypt in 1849. What a wonderful way to spend your life if you’ve always been a dreamer like me.”
Osborne is “really thrilled” to address booksellers at the breakfast. “I am a strong advocate of independent booksellers,” she says. “I care strongly about their work and what they do for authors. Booksellers, librarians, and teachers have done so much to help the Magic Tree House. I am thrilled to have a chance to speak and talk about how important it is to support beginning readers and what reading at a young age means in terms of one’s whole life.”
Osborne and her sister (coauthor of the Fact Trackers) Natalie Pope Boyce will sign copies of Magic Tree House: Stallion by Starlight and Magic Tree House Fact Trackers: Horse Heroes today, noon–1 p.m., in the Random House Children’s Books booth (2739).
Rick Riordan has something new to share with booksellers this morning: he will reveal the cover of The Heroes of Olympus, Book Four: The House of Hades, which Disney-Hyperion will publish in October with a 3.5 million–copy first printing. This series follows in the bestselling tradition of Riordan’s Percy Jackson & the Olympians and the Kane Chronicles; the U.S. in-print tally for the three series tops 33 million copies, and the novels have been translated into 37 languages. The author reflects that writing The House of Hades, the penultimate installment of the series, came easily—more or less. “The novel flowed very nicely, now that all the characters are in place, though I would say that writing a book is never easy,” he says. “I always try to challenge myself to do something different with each novel. And The Heroes of Olympus has seven different narrators, and that’s a challenge to juggle. But I feel as though things have jelled nicely, and the characters have become a team. Now it’s all about letting them shine.” Riordan is taking a break from writing the final installment to write Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods, an anthology of Greek myths told from the perspective of this character. “It will include chapters on each of the Olympian gods,” explains Riordan. “I’m hoping that teachers can use the book to supplement units on mythology. And I hope it will be of interest to kids who want to learn about Greek gods and myths from a more primary source.”
After wrapping up the Heroes of Olympus series, Riordan will set his sights on more northerly climes and write a series based in ancient Norse mythology. “For a long time, I’ve been thinking about doing a Percy Jacksonesque spin on Norse mythology and bringing that mythology into the 21st century,” he says. “I envision doing the same kind of thing: having modern-day kids and a lot of action and irreverence, while staying true to Norse myths. I’m going to have fun with it.”
A veteran BEA attendee, Riordan has been a Children’s Book and Author Breakfast audience member many times. After breakfast, he will greet fans, 10:30–11:30 a.m., at Table 15 in the Autographing Area, at a ticketed signing of paperback editions of The Kane Chronicles, Book Three: The Serpent’s Shadow.
Veronica Roth, who is making her third trip to BEA, doesn’t hold back relating her reaction to being asked to speak at today’s breakfast. “I think I actually squealed!” she says. “It’s going to be really nerve-wracking after listening to the other authors speak, but it will be fun and amazing.”
She will, of course, be among friends. Since its 2011 launch, her Divergent trilogy has sold more than three million copies and rights have been sold into 40 territories worldwide. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books will release the final installment, Allegiant, in October with a two million–copy first printing.
“It boggles the mind,” says Roth of the success of the trilogy, which was purchased in a pre-empt deal while the author was still in college. “When I was writing the first book in my rubber ducky jammies in my parents’ house, I certainly didn’t think anything like this would happen. It’s amazing and very exciting how readers have responded.”
Wrapping up the trilogy was bittersweet, the author reports. “I was really sad after finishing Allegiant and completing a story that was building for such a long time—and knowing I had to let the characters go,” she says. “I moped around for a couple of days, and then began thinking about moving on to something else, so that was exciting.”
Though uncertain about her next literary step, Roth suspects she’ll stick with YA. “I love the readers I write for, so in all likelihood I’ll keep writing for teens,” she says. “I’m playing around with a couple of book ideas, so I’ll see what sticks.”
Roth’s fans can catch up with her this afternoon, 1–2 p.m., at the HarperCollins Children’s Books booth (2039), where she’ll be signing posters promoting Allegiant. —Sally Lodge