An Interview With Mary Pope Osborne About My Secret War
Mary Pope Osborne answers questions about her Dear America novel My Secret War: The World War II Diary of Madeline Beck, Long Island, New York, 1941.
Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D., and Eleanore S. Tyson, Ed.D.: Like Maddie, you grew up as the daughter of a military officer. How autobiographical is My Secret War?
Mary Pope Osborne: I was not actually born until after WWII, but I grew up in the military as Maddie did. A military childhood in the 1950s was very much informed by WWII. My brothers and I often heard stories from our dad — and from other kids — about things that had happened to their dads. We constantly played war games, and nearly every Saturday saw a different WWII movie at the post theater. We lived and breathed the war because in the 1950s, it was still so much on the minds of military personnel.
RFA and EST: Please tell us about the research process you went through to write Madeline's diary.
MPO: To research the book, I read many books about battles in the Pacific, U-boats on the east coast, and activities on the home front. Probably the most important sources were newspapers and magazines. I studied microfilm of The New York Times and Newsweek magazine for the period covered in the story; and I photocopied a great deal of microfilm from the East Hampton Star, a Long Island newspaper. I also consulted often with Robert Schnare, Jr., Director of the Naval College Library in Newport, Rhode Island.
RFA and EST: Other than Maddie, who is your favorite character in this book? Why?
MPO: I think my favorite character other than Maddie is Clara Rosenthal. Like Maddie, I greatly admire Clara's courage, and found myself wishing she would find peace and happiness in her new life.
RFA and EST: If youngsters wanted to research the actual event when the Nazi saboteurs came ashore on Long Island, are there one or two sources you'd recommend?
MPO: It can be difficult to find books about Nazi U-boats off the east coast that are still in print. But a good library will probably still have some books on the subject, such as: They Came to Kill by Eugene Rachlis; Hitler's U-Boat War by Clay Blair; and Fire on the Beaches by Theodore Taylor.
RFA and EST: Maddie and her school friends were very patriotic. Do you think youngsters today are patriotic, or does it take a war to inspire such feelings and actions?
MPO: Most American youngsters today have never directly experienced a war situation in which they themselves or loved ones were threatened. They have no idea what it would feel like if the future of our country were at stake. But I'm quite sure that should such a terrible situation arise, they would be enthusiastically patriotic and helpful. Kids today inspire me; I have the feeling they would rise to any challenge.
RFA and EST: Clara is a wonderfully developed character who stays with readers long after the diary is finished. In your eyes, what is it about Clara that makes her so special?
MPO: Clara's courage is her most special quality. But she did not gain her courage at the expense of her humanity. She is kind and gentle and puts the feelings of others first.
RFA and EST: What is one question you'd like to ask children after they've finished reading Madeline's diary?
MPO: I'd like to ask readers: What did you know about WWII before you read Maddie's story? And do you know a great deal more about it now?
RFA and EST: What is one thing you hope young readers will take with them after reading My Secret War: The World War II Diary of Madeline Beck?
MPO: I hope the book will give readers a perspective on their own lives and help them see that working for a cause that is just and good is far more exciting and rewarding than being mired down by the usual petty concerns of life.
This interview was conducted by Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D., Professor of Literature for Children and Young Adults, University of Houston, and Eleanore S. Tyson, Ed.D., Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Houston, Department of Curriculum and Instruction.