The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Anna Crowley Redding and Emily Sutton
I'm excited to have the opportunity to talk with Anna Crowley Redding and Emily Sutton about their amazing collaboration in the creation of a gorgeous and touching nonfiction picture book biography.
Anna Crowley Redding has wanted to be a writer since elementary school. From poems to journals to made-up tales about quirky characters on crazy adventures, she always had a story going. Tucked away in an unmarked box in her garage, Anna still has her diary from age 12. (But the diary is locked and she lost the tiny key long ago.)
When Anna wasn’t writing, she was busy asking people lots and lots and lots of questions. She could usually be found sniffing out trouble, drama, and interesting tidbits—so she could then tell everyone what she’d discovered.
Before diving into the deep end of writing for children and young adults, Anna first career was as an Emmy-award winning investigative television reporter, anchor, and journalist. The recipient of multiple Edward R. Murrow awards and recognized by the Associated Press for her reporting, Anna now focuses her stealthy detective skills on digging up great stories for young readers –– which, as it turns out, is her true passion. Plus, it's a great excuse to be nosy!
Anna is the author of Black Hole Chasers: The Amazing True Story of an Astronomical Breakthrough (2021), The Gravity Tree: The True Story of a Tree That Inspired the World illustrated by Yas Imamura (2021), Rescuing the Declaration of Independence: How We Almost Lost the Words That Built America illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham (2021), Chowder Rules!: The True Story of an Epic Food Fight illustrated by Vita Lane (2020), Elon Musk: A Mission to Save the World (2019), and Google It: A History of Google (2018).
Emily Sutton was raised in the iconic North Yorkshire countryside and has become a true icon of modern day illustration. Starting her artistic career at the reputable Edinburgh College of Art, Emily’s childhood obsessions were soon brought to life; it was here that her vast and detailed world of curiosities, Victoriana and rosy-cheeked children were born. Going on to Rhode Island School of Design and working on a piece for The Edward Gorey House, Emily’s own style was fast becoming a recognizable asset.
Emily has also designed for iconic labels, creating packaging for the likes of Betty’s and following in Edward Bawden’s steps with work for Fortnum and Mason, it is likely there is something in your home she has created without you even realizing. She has also worked in many different formats with St Jude’s and Penfold Press, where her textiles, lithographs and prints are all available.
Emily is the author/illustrator of Penny and the Little Lost Puppy (2021) and the illustrator of Grow: Secrets of Our DNA by Nicola Davies (2021), Many: The Diversity of Life on Earth by Nicola Davies (2020), The Ups and Downs of the Castle Mice by Michael Bond (2019), Ernestine's Milky Way by Kerry Madden-Lunsford (2019), A First Book of the Sea by Nicola Davies (2018), The Tale Of The Castle Mice by Bond Michael (2017), One Christmas Wish by Katherine Rundell (2017), Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies (2016), The Christmas Eve Tree by Delia Huddy (2016), Clara Button and the Wedding Day Surprise by Amy De La Haye (2013), Clara Button and the Magical Hat Day by Amy De La Haye (2011),
Their exciting newest nonfiction book, Courage Like Kate: The True Story of a Girl Lighthouse Keeper releases tomorrow!
Welcome Anna and Emily, thanks so much for stopping by to chat with us about your books, writing, and illustrating.
Thank you so much for having us!
Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write or illustrate? How long have you been writing or illustrating? What is your favorite type of book to write or illustrate? )
ANNA – I’ve been writing ever since I was a little girl, always writing cards, letters, diaries. Eventually I studied journalism at Northeastern University in Boston and writing on deadline as a reporter, telling different stories every day, really was the best training for becoming an author. Though, note to readers, this is certainly not the only path to becoming a writer, but it happened to be my path.
EMILY - I’ve been drawing, painting and crafting for as long as I can remember, but only began to imagine doing it as an actual career once I was well on the way through art school in Edinburgh: it seemed too good to be true, and often still does!
I now live and work in York, England and spend my time illustrating books and making work for exhibitions. I work most days because it’s pretty much my favourite thing to do and when I feel most content.
I’ve been lucky to have had a great variety within the books I’ve worked on, and a balance of fiction and nonfiction. I honestly couldn’t pick a favourite because the fun is in the learning experience of each new project. In all my books I enjoy getting to know the characters and become quite attached to them.
What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
ANNA – I speak Italian and went to high school in Italy!
EMILY - I love roller skating and blading! I got into it as a kid and then after a bit of a hiatus picked it up again about 10 years ago- it’s a fun contrast to my quiet introspective life as an illustrator. I even had a brief stint in my local Roller Derby team a few years back but retired from it when I realised I wasn’t a fan of the contact sport element. My niece just turned 7 and asked for a pair of quad skates so I’m excited to have that as a shared activity. I’m now in my late 30s so definitely not in the target demographic anymore but it makes me very happy and I hope to continue for decades to come, hopefully with no broken bones!
What an awesome experience, Anna! And I admire that you are still skating, Emily. What was your inspiration for Courage Like Kate: The True Story of a Girl Lighthouse Keeper?
ANNA – I was reading news headlines on my phone one night and saw a mention that a U.S. Coast Guard ship was being named after a 12-year-old girl lighthouse keeper who lived in the 1800’s and saved twenty-three lives. I knew then and there I wanted to write about her heroism.
It is such an amazing story. What was it about the manuscript of Courage Like Kate: The True Story of a Girl Lighthouse Keeper which intrigued you when considered illustrating it?
EMILY - When I first read the manuscript for Courage Like Kate I was immediately drawn to Kate’s confidence, determination, and independence. I think now more than ever it’s important to highlight such examples of girls’ and womens’ strength and Kate’s story was all the more remarkable having taken place in a time when there were so many more societal barriers in place for us. I also loved Anna’s vivid descriptions of the rugged coastal landscapes and was excited to translate her words into imagery full of movement and texture.
Seems like a perfect match for the two of you. What was the hardest part about writing and/or researching Courage Like Kate? The most fun part?
ANNA – The hardest part was finding the heart of the story. There are so many fascinating aspects to it, right!? There is daily life on an island in the 1800’s. Taking care of a lighthouse and surviving storms is fascinating. It’s easy to make those threads the central part of the story. It’s like walking into a toy shop and saying, “I want one of everything!” But when you are writing a picture book, you have to determine the story’s heart and stick to it. The heart of this story is Kate’s selfless heroism at a time when women had little to no rights, and yet, she persisted. The rest of it is setting (a great one) and context (daily life) but her heroism is the story’s heart. Once I could figure that out… I moved onto word choice and that was without question the fun part!
Oh, I (and probably many others) can definitely sympathize with the toy shop analogy. Having illustrated both fiction and nonfiction books, were there any hard, or interesting, aspects involved in researching for the illustrations for Courage Like Kate?
EMILY – During the initial stages of making artwork Anna kindly provided me with a whole folder of photographs of Fayerweather Island from a trip she’d taken there. It was so helpful to be able to immerse myself in the scenery and to see the details that had caught Anna’s eye before writing the text. In addition to this, she’d been able to take pictures from the local museum showing the original lighthouse keeper’s cottage and other archive materials which were all incredibly useful in bringing the story to life. I did my own research into the local flora and fauna, and had some help finding references for the more technical elements such as the lighthouse oil lamps. One of my favourite aspects to being an illustrator is the huge variety of knowledge you glean in the research stage of a book- it takes you down such random and diverse avenues and I love how I’m always learning new things in the process.
That is one of the best things about making books for kids! As long as we can eventually get out of the rabbit holes we dive down! Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or your favorite book as a child?
ANNA – I loved Nancy Drew so much! And I also read and adored all of Mildred Taylor’s books!
EMILY - My favourite author as a very young kid was Enid Blyton (not sure if she was big in America but was extremely popular here in the UK). Her books now seem pretty outdated but I used to adore her series The Faraway Tree in particular. Once I turned 7 or 8 I became obsessed with Roald Dahl and through his writing discovered the illustrations of Quentin Blake who is still a huge hero of mine. Other favourite illustrators were Beatrix Potter, Jill Barklem (creator of the Brambley Hedge series) and the absolute genius Edward Gorey. His book The Jumbilees was given to me when I was about three years old and was pretty much the only book my dad would never tire of reading to my sister and me so it’s now thoroughly imprinted on my brain! Years later I found out that Gorey lived in Cape Cod- not far from where this book takes place - and whilst I was an exchange student at RISD I helped to cover the entire surface of a fibreglass whale with one of Gorey’s illustrations of sea monsters. I believe the whale is now in permanent residence at the Edward Gorey House, which obviously is a huge honour!
Anna, did the writing and/or revision of Courage Like Kate differ from your previous books?
ANNA – This was the first nonfiction picture book I attempted to write. As I continued to take classes and sharpen my craft, I kept coming back to this story with new skill and more clarity. It made this book possible. It’s different in the sheer amount of time I devoted to Kate and her story, but I was committed to getting it right and seeing it through to publication. The whole process took EIGHT years!
I, for one, am glad you never gave up on Kate's story. Emily, many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in Courage Like Kate? Could you share one or more with us?
© Emily Sutton, 2021.
EMILY - I like to include a few little personal touches to all of the books I illustrate. In this case, some of the rugs and chairs in Kate’s cottage are drawn from objects in my own home. I was also able to make observational sketches for the some of the animals on the island smallholding as at the time I was living in the country surrounded by fields of cows and sheep!
I just love your front end papers. Anna, is there something you want your readers to know about Kate Moore or Courage Like Kate?
Text © Anna Crowley Redding, 2022. Image © Emily Sutton, 2022.
ANNA – Yes! Don’t give up and don’t go home. If you want to be something or accomplish something, even if the whole world thinks you can’t achieve your goals, do NOT give up. Have courage, like Kate!
This is such a wonderful message. And Kate was truly an impressive person. How long did it take from first draft to publication for Courage Like Kate? What is the toughest part in general about writing for you? The most amazing?
ANNA – Eight years! The toughest part of writing is sitting down to face a blank page! Yuck! Once it’s filled with words, I can make them better. But getting them down on that first blank page is almost physically painful. Two amazing aspects – while writing, I tend to get lost in the world of the story. It feels like part me of is living in reality and the other part is living in the book. While it might be slightly annoying for people who live with me, I actually love that. [*chuckling*]
The other most amazing part is after the writing it done, when the story impacts the reader. Makes the whole process worth it.
Seeing it in a kid's hands and their face light up must make any of the hassles worth it. Emily, was there anything particularly challenging about the illustrations for Courage Like Kate? How many revisions did it take to create the illustrations?
EMILY - The main challenges in creating the artworks for Courage Like Kate lay in the initial research stages. It was hard to find visual reference for details like the particular tables on which the oil lamps in the lighthouse would have stood on, or how the interior of Kate’s cottage would have been decorated and furnished. Once I’d been able to gather enough information on these the process was pretty smooth sailing (excuse the nautical pun!). There were just a few tweaks in the pagination to slightly alter the pacing of the narrative, and one or two revisions needed on some of the scenes showing Kate’s brave rescues to emphasise even more the perilous nature of the sea. In general, I go through a couple of stages of pencil roughs when drawing out a book so that when the time comes to make the final colour artwork I have it clear in my head and can paint with confidence and expression.
No excuse necessary! And I really do love the expressiveness of your paintings. Are there any new projects you are working on that you can share a tidbit with us?
ANNA – Yes! I am working on a chapter book series called The Danger Files! These books are so cool and offer an edge of your seat true story about disasters BUT they are filled with cool clues for the reader to solve along the way. It’s a whole new concept and I’m in love!
EMILY – I’m currently in the middle of illustrating two books, one fiction, one non-fiction, both very fun and based in nature. I have an idea brewing for another story of my own set in a forest and on the theme of making friends and building community but it’s still in the very early stages. I’m also about to embark on a pretty epic illustration project involving the work of Shakespeare which is quite daunting but very exciting! Unfortunately, I’m not able to share any details about that just yet but all will be revealed in the coming months.
Good luck to both of you on these projects. Have you found anything particularly helpful in keeping you inspired and writing these past couple of years?
ANNA – It’s been very difficult during the pandemic but as you know when you write books, it takes a couple of years for them to come out and so I think about where readers will be in two years (hopefully a calmer world) and I think about keeping that sense of wonder when they open a book… absolutely sacred. That’s what helps me!
EMILY - Throughout my life I’ve found my work to be a real sanctuary and this has held true over the past couple of years. I’m really lucky that my parents live in the countryside in the middle of a big field and I was able to decamp there for chunks of time throughout the several lockdowns we had here in England. I’m a true introvert so whilst I felt sad and scared for those who were being directly impacted by covid I was at peace with the slowed pace of life and really channeled my energy and focus into painting. It was great to be able to escape into the worlds of the books I was working on, even when the real world had become so limited and shut down.
Wonder and escape are definitely gifts that your books grant to each of us. Thank you, both. Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?
ANNA – I love visiting Acadia National Park in Maine because of the view of the night sky. Light pollution is so low there and the first time I visited the park at night and looked up, I burst into tears because it was so beautiful!
EMILY - I have a real attachment to Griffith Park in LA- I’m half American and my aunt and uncle live 10 minutes walk from the park entrance. I visit them pretty much every year and have been since I was a kid so I’ve had some of my happiest memories over in that part of the world. As an adult whenever I visit I go for daily morning walks up the trails and make friends with the dogs out on hikes with their owners.
I also had a life changing week long trip to Yellowstone national park when I was about sixteen. The sheer scale of it blew my mind and I even saw a moose (though no bears sadly). I’d love to spend a summer out there in a cabin going on hikes with a sketchbook; it’s brim full of inspiration and beauty. I’d have to figure out a way of bringing my dog Mouse though as I couldn’t bear to be separated from her for more than a few weeks!
Thank you so much Anna & Emily for participating in this chat!
Be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on Courage Like Kate: The True Story of the Girl Lighthouse Keeper.
To learn more about Anna Crowley Redding, or contact her:
To learn more about Emily Sutton, or contact her: