The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Ana Crespo
Ana Crespo is happiest when surrounded by nature. Before the pandemic, Ana spent her summers traveling around the United States, visiting National Parks, and exploring some of the most beautiful places in America. She would usually return from her trips full of ideas for new stories. Ana considers herself lucky for having a career that allows her to keep her imagination alive way beyond her childhood years. Originally from Brazil, Ana lives in the beautiful Rocky Mountain region with her husband and kids.
She is the author of 6 picture books, including Lia & Luis: Who Has More? (2020), the My Emotion & Me series (2015-2016) and The Sock Thief: A Soccer Story (2015).
Her newest picture book, Hello, Tree, releases tomorrow!
Welcome Ana, thank-you so much for stopping by to talk about your newest books and writing.
Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? What is your favorite type of book to write?)
I have been writing since 2012. That’s the year I attended my first writers’ conference and learned that I had a whole lot to learn—and I still do; I think we are always learning. I write sort of everywhere. I may do the bulk of the writing at home, during quiet times when my son is at school (although the pandemic messed up that balance), but I am always writing, no matter where I am. If I am not putting the words down on the computer, I am marinating ideas, cogitating plots, debating solutions anywhere I am. It took me a while to find “my style,” but I now know I enjoy writing books with emotional plots, plots that help me reflect about different experiences, including that of being an immigrant.
That's a great description - always learning and always writing! What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
When I am cogitating plots, wondering what I can do to fix something I think is not working, I take a shower. For whatever reason, showers always clear my head and help me find the solutions I seek. So, piggybacking on the previous question, we can probably say I also write in the shower.
*Smiling* It's hard not to be calm and relaxed in the shower. What was the inspiration for Hello, Tree?
About a year before the Black Forest Fire, which was ultimately the inspiration for this book, I had visited the Rocky Mountain National Park and attended a Ranger Talk about the benefits of forest fires. I had never thought there could be benefits to anything that devastating, so I was surprised to hear about a forest’s life cycle. That same year, part of El Paso County, in Colorado, fell victim to the Waldo Canyon Fire, which was both extremely destructive and a powerful reminder of the effects of climate change. I was traveling during the Waldo Canyon Fire and witnessed only its aftereffects.
Then, the following year, came the Black Forest Fire. The Black Forest Fire happened just about 10 miles from my home, in an area my son and I used to visit often. My house was never in danger but being here during the fire—seeing the uncertainties, the emotional toll, the physical devastation—was very difficult. I could see and smell the smoke, but it was hard to believe such a devastating fire was happening again. After the fire, I drove through Black Forest to see with my own eyes the impact of it. It was heartbreaking. So many trees charred. So many houses down. Then, I saw something on the chimney of a burned-down house—you can read about it in the book—and I was taken by emotion. That was how the idea for the book came about.
Having also experienced many "grey days and orange nights," some much too close, I was really touched by the emotions you and Dow captured in the book. How did the writing and journey to publication of Hello, Tree compare to those of your other books?
The main difference between this book and previous ones is that the plot didn’t change much, even though I wrote the first draft in 2013. There were certainly changes, inspired by my critique group at the time and by critiques from editors, but those changes were more to the wording, to how the story was told, rather than the plot itself.
Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
It’s hard for me to mention a childhood favorite book because, to be honest, I wasn’t a reader when I was a child. I became a reader on the floor of the Monroe County Public Library, in Bloomington, IN, as I read to my daughter. But I can tell you that one of the first children’s books I read that brought me to tears was Pianna, by Mary Lyn Ray (illustrated by Bobbie Henba, and published by Harcourt). Now that I think about it, I wonder how much the love for Pianna has influenced my taste and my writing.
Thank you for introducing me and others to this book. Was the story always written from the point of view of the tree? Why did you approach the story this way?
After looking at the charred trees, I couldn’t stop thinking about how stuck trees are. There’s nothing a tree can do during a wildfire but wait and hope that their natural defenses or pure luck will protect them. I have always been fascinated by trees, so that’s where my mind went. From the very first draft, the book was written from the perspective of the tree. In fact, I just looked at the e-mail with the first submission of this manuscript—February 1, 2014—and read the first sentence again. Aside from the character being a boy, nothing changed. It said: “I met the boy when he was a baby, and I was just a sapling.” This is quite different from previous books I have written. Usually, the beginning changes at least a little.
Wow, that is amazing. What or who is your greatest source of inspiration?
My life experiences are my greatest sources of inspiration.
What was the toughest aspect of writing Hello, Tree? Research, writing, and/or revising? Putting together the backmatter?
Research was certainly the toughest part. This is a fictional story, but I wanted the plot to follow a believable (and possible) timeline. I was careful to research how long the tree would take to grow, what would be some of the measures that would take place after a wildfire in a residential area, understand how wildfires are fought, etc. Writing the backmatter wasn’t easy either. I thought the lifecycle of the forest and the role fire plays in it weren’t easy to explain—there are too many things happening at the same time, which is why we opted for a more graphic backmatter, illustrating the cycle.
I love your back matter. It is gorgeous and really easy to follow. When you saw Dow Phumiruk’s illustrations did anything amaze or surprise you? What is your favorite illustration?
First, I couldn’t believe Dow would be the one illustrating this book. I met Dow in 2015, during a writers’ and illustrators’ conference—her portfolio was on display, and I was in complete awe. Since then, I had dreamed of partnering with Dow to create a book and, when the dream became a reality, I was overjoyed.
Text © Ana Crespo, 2021. Image © Dow Phumiruk, 2021.
I loved everything she did in Hello, Tree, but one thing that surprised me and really made the story a lot better, was the addition of the shelter images. The shelter part is not mentioned in the text, and I didn’t include illustration notes about the shelter, but it is something that needed to be addressed, and I was grateful that Dow included them. In my opinion, this exemplifies how creating a book is group work—once the manuscript is sold, it stops being “my” manuscript and becomes “our” project.
Text © Ana Crespo, 2021. Image © Dow Phumiruk, 2021.
My favorite illustration, though, is the spread in which the girl is growing—the second spread. I especially love the image in which she sits under the tree, wishing upon the stars.
What a great example of the collaboration (even if not in person) required between an author and illustrator to create a special picture book. Is there something you want your readers to know about Hello, Tree?
There are two things that are not obvious about Hello, Tree and that I think make the book extra special. The first one is the Colorado-connection. This story is inspired by an event that took place in Colorado, written by a Colorado author, and illustrated by a Colorado illustrator. The second one is that this book would not exist were it not for recent immigrants. I immigrated to this country as an adult, Dow immigrated as a child, and Alvina, our editor, is the daughter of immigrants.
Both very important facets of what makes this book as special as it is. How have you stayed creative during this crazy year? Any specific things you are doing to “prime the well”?
I can’t say that I stayed creative during the pandemic, though I did write a book that was sold. Not only did the pandemic make it hard to find time to actually sit down and write, but it also made me sad and stressed and worried and unmotivated, especially during school breaks. So, I don’t think there’s anything specific I did to “prime the well." It hasn’t been the best year and a half, though good things have happened during this time. I certainly look forward to the day everyone will be vaccinated, and this pandemic will be behind us.
These have definitely been the two weirdest and "longest" years in modern history. Most of us join you in this hope. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
Yes! It was accidently announced that there’s a sequel to Lia & Luís: Who Has More? (illustrated by Giovana Medeiros and published by Charlesbridge) coming out next year. In the second book, Lia & Luís will solve a mystery using more mathematical thinking. Lia & Luís is special to me because it is part of a very important project. You can read more about how the Storytelling Math series came about in this great article by TERC’s Senior Scientist Marlene Kliman. The series features books written by Grace Lin, Rajani LaRocca, Natasha Yim, JaNay Brown-Wood, and more. In addition, I have another book coming out, though I am not sure yet when. This new book is still a secret, so I cannot share much. It was inspired by my experience as an immigrant.
Congratulations. We are definitely going to have to keep our eyes open for these books. What is your favorite animal? Or one that you are currently enamored with. Why?
This is a question my kids have always asked me, and I have never been able to answer. I don’t have a favorite animal. So, my kids learned to ask it in a different way: “What animal would you like to be?” And, if I had to pick one, I’d pick a sea turtle, because they live a very long life in the ocean, and they travel extensively.
I like that way of rephrasing the question. Thank you, Ana for stopping by and sharing with us. It was wonderful to chat with you.
A pleasure! Thanks for having me, Maria!
Be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on
To find out more about Ana Crespo, or get in touch with her:
Hello Tree: Book Launch TOMORROW -
4:30pm, on Tuesday, September 14th at BookBar Denver
Join Ana Crespo and Dow Phumiruk, the creators of Hello, Tree, to celebrate the release of the book. Inspired by the 2013 Black Forest fire and told from the viewpoint of a tree watching its home destroyed, Hello, Tree is about the kinship between humans and nature, and preservation of the environment.