The Picture Book Buzz: Interview with Anna Forrester
I chose Anna Forrester and her debut picture book, Bat Count: A Citizen Science Story, to kick off a new portion of my blog - The Picture Book Buzz. My goal for 2017 is to post interviews with authors at least once a month, on Mondays.
Many organizations use citizen scientists to help them gather information, to assist in the conservation and preservation of our world. I have participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count (December) and the Project Feeder Watch (November- April) with The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. for many years.
In her debut picture book, Anna Forrester explores a family's participation in a citizen science project - the bat count. See my Perfect Picture Book Friday, #PPBF post on January 20, 2017, for a review of Anna's book.
ME: Tell us a little about yourself. (Who was your biggest inspiration as a child? Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? What is your favorite type of book to write?)
ANNA: I grew up in the Midwest – in Missouri – and was the youngest of four kids. The first story I ever remember writing was in second grade and was about a girl who had no bones. I think I illustrated it too: in my memory, she wore a big, sunny, yellow dress with green spots
Right out of college I became a teacher in New York City – kindergarten and second grade – and I went to graduate school for education. That was when I wrote my first children’s book. But I couldn’t handle the uncertainty of being a writer, so I started working with schools that were building gardens, and then went back to school again and became a landscape architect. I still do landscape design work – as a consultant focusing on play and kid's spaces – but a few years ago I returned to writing and quickly began to focus more on that. The uncertainty feels much more manageable this time around.
What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
When I was just out of college and living in New York City, I caught a hamster running across a terrace in the West Village, right outside this place called The James Beard House. I took him back to my apartment, built a cage out of two plastic milk crates and named him James Beard. His squeaky wheel kept me up at night, but otherwise he was an okay pet.
What was your inspiration for Bat Count?
My family does bat counts every summer in central Pennsylvania. I struggle with feeling helpless about the ecological crises that we are living through now, and I worry that kids who are growing up with constant news about climate change and all sorts of extinctions may experience similar feelings. BAT COUNT captures some of that distress and tries to offer a little hope.
What was the hardest portion to write or part to research for this book? (Or both)
I found the writing much harder than the research – especially the ending. But I really do believe in this idea that we leave ourselves clues in our writing. So, in grappling with the ending, I eventually fixed on the fact that, for no particular reason, I had given Jojo twin brothers. In those twins – whose birth had forced Jojo to grow up faster and had turned her into an older sibling with a lot of responsibility – I found a solution. The parallel of the bat mama having twins provides Jojo with concrete hope, and it also gives Jojo a chance to connect with her mom and get some needed love and validation. Hope, love, and validation – what could be more important?
Did you ever think about writing this from a third person POV and making it a nonfiction PB? Why did you chose first person POV?
I never thought about non-fiction, probably because the story – for me – is as much about struggling with feelings of ecological hopelessness as it is about the facts of bat life cycles and white nose syndrome. As for third person: I looked back through my drafts and it was always in first person! Which isn’t necessarily a good thing (It’s always good to experiment with different perspectives). But I think first person makes Jojo’s struggle immediate and relatable.
ME: I agree with you, Anna. The 1st person POV places the reader squarely into the emotions of Jojo and her mother regarding the diminishing numbers of the bats in their barn and their joy at the end. The reader's connection with Jojo and her family is part of what makes this book such a jewel.
What one thing do you hope your readers take away from Bat Count?
The idea that they can make a difference – that they can get involved, through citizen science, and help scientists work towards solutions to environmental and ecological problems. (You can find all sorts of great projects on line at: scistarter.org; www.zooniverse.org; and http://www.birds.cornell.edu/page.aspx?pid=1664)
ME: It may feel like a small, inconsequential thing to count bats or birds. But citizen scientists have allowed The Cornell Lab of Ornithology to track the migration pattern changes of birds around the world. These results help them argue for climate change and try to preventing further extinctions. Check out how you, too, can help.
What do you know about writing or publishing now, that you wish you had known when you started writing?
So, I always imagined myself publishing trade books. And I still hope to. But I really thought that trade publishing was somehow ‘better’ than educational publishing. Which isn’t true at all – the two are just different.
I have been SO happy with the process of publishing this first book in the education market. Because the book has the kind of content it does, when I talk about it I have all of this stuff to talk about – bats, white nose syndrome, citizen science -- in addition to the characters and the writing and the story. And for whatever reason, that feels super comfortable for me and is really satisfying.
What is your favorite animal? Why?
My latest obsession is with this little creature called a fairy shrimp -- although I have yet to actually see one in real life! Fairy shrimp only live in vernal pools, and last spring I visited a LOT of vernal pools looking for fairy shrimp, but I never saw a single one. This spring I will keep looking.
Fairy shrimp are close cousins of Sea Monkeys, and triops (which some kids may know), and they have been around for 400 million years. They truly are ‘living fossils’.
Good luck, Anna, in finding your elusive fairy shrimp. I hope you continue counting bats and that scientists find a way to combat the white-nose syndrome. Thank you for stopping by and discussing your amazing book and yourself. This was lots of fun! :-)
To find out more about Anna Forrester, or get in touch with her:
Blog: Hmmmmm https://annaforrester.wordpress.com/