An Interview with Mary Pope Osbourne about Standing in the Light
Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D. & Linda M. Pavonetti, Ed.D.: Would you tell us about the research you did in order to write Standing in the Light: The Captive Diary of Catharine Carey Logan?
Mary Pope Osborne: My research focused mainly on two areas: the daily life of 18th century Quakers of Pennsylvania, as well as the daily life of the Delaware or Lenape Indians of that period. I read whatever I could find on the subject, such as records of early Quaker meetings and Moravian missionary accounts of the Lenape. One of my favorite sources was a book about the Lenape by William Penn himself.
RFA & LMP: Did Native American tribes frequently capture English-speaking children?
MPO: A number of early settlers were captured by Indians, especially during the French and Indian War when the Indians were aided by the French. Though popular reading consisted of horrific firsthand accounts from captives, many white prisoners became attached to their Indian families and were reluctant to return to "civilized life."
RFA & LMP: Catharine Carey Logan is a beautifully developed, multi-faceted character. In your writing, how important is characterization as compared to plot?
MPO: My novels always start with character. Once I begin to understand a character, I begin plotting the book, mostly to find out what my character will do. How will she react to this experience or that? I can't force her to do anything...I just have to wait and discover her truth.
RFA & LMP: Other than Catharine, who are your favorite characters in this book?
MPO: I have to say I love the father. I find his deep commitment to the Quaker philosophy very poignant. By the same token I admire the Lenape healer, White Owl. She and Catharine's father are both very humble, dignified, and dedicated to helping others.
RFA & LMP: Throughout Catharine Logan's diary there are many examples of the important role religion plays in the lives of young people-a subject not often touched on in children's books. Why did you choose to make religion so important in this novel?
MPO: It's my feeling that the lives of many early American settlers were lived in constant colloquy with God. I have a letter written by my great-great-grandfather on the morning that his small son died of yellow fever in Mississippi. In the letter, he is desperately trying to understand God's intentions. The same can be said about Native American peoples such as the Lenape. Much of their life was lived in daily communication with spirits.
RFA & LMP: Catharine's diary implies that White Owl's Lenape tribe was cheated and then slaughtered by English settlers and soldiers. What do you want readers of Catharine's diary to understand about that period in our history?
MPO: There were many reasons for the disharmony between the English settlers and the northeastern Indian tribes, among them the stealing of Indian lands, the French and Indian War, and the Indian raids against English settlements. Perhaps the distance between the two worlds was ultimately unbridgeable, but it seems to me that if there had been more leaders like William Penn, men who respected and honored the Indians, much of the bloodshed and horror of that period might have been avoided.
RFA & LMP: If you could ask young readers of Catharine's diary one question, what would that question be?
MPO: Catharine spends a great deal of time questioning her behavior and seeking the right thing to do. Do moral, ethical, and spiritual struggles seem relevant to young people today?
RFA & LMP: What is one thing you hope young readers will take with them after reading Standing in the Light: The Captive Diary of Catharine Carey Logan?
MPO: I hope simply that Standing in the Light will inspire young readers to seek human connections that transcend cultural differences.
Interview conducted by Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D., Professor of Literature for Children and Young Adults, University of Houston, Houston, Texas, and Linda M. Pavonetti, Ed.D., Assistant Professor, Oakland University, Department of Reading and Language Arts, Rochester, Michigan.