The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Anna Orenstein-Cardona
I can't believe this is my 700th post! I am so grateful to all the authors and illustrators who've participated in interviews for my blog. And I feel blessed as I look back through these past five years at the amazing creatives I got to meet and the gorgeous books I got to help celebrate.
I'm glad that this post is an interview with the talented debut author Anna Orenstein-Cardona about her passions and her stunning new picture book about Puerto Rico's beloved banyan tree by the San Juan Gate.
Anna Orenstein-Cardona was born and raised in Puerto Rico. After attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), she worked for over two decades in finance in the U.S.A. and Europe, before turning to writing for children. Anna is an alumna of Faber Academy and an active member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). In 2020, she founded Wear Your Money Crown® to help close the gap in financial literacy. Currently, Anna is working on developing various projects, including more children books. She lives in London with her two very special furbabies and her Southern gentleman husband, although spends as much time as she can in Puerto Rico. Where she regularly gets involved in rescuing abandoned animals and supporting local charities.
Anna’s debut picture book, The Tree of Hope, releases tomorrow.
Welcome Anna, thank you so much for stopping by to talk about your debut book and your writing.
Hi Maria! Thank you so much for allowing me to share The Tree of Hope on your beautiful blog.
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’ve been writing ever since childhood, as I have always had a vivid imagination. However, I took it up more seriously in 2012, after completing a writing course at Faber Academy in London.
I pretty much write everywhere but find most peace and creativity at my desk, as I sip a good cup of café con leche (coffee with milk) and have my little cats cuddled at my feet.
I really enjoy writing for different genres, however there is something very magical about writing picture books. It’s also a lot harder than one thinks because it requires a special skill set to tell a story in such a limited number of words. Particularly now, as picture books tend to range between 500-600 words on average vs the 1,000+ previously.
Sounds like a heavenly place to write. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
Haha! Great question. Perhaps that I make a seriously excellent lasagna. I learned the recipe from my grandfather and have been perfecting it for years. My husband says that it is the best lasagna he has ever had, but maybe he is biased.
Maybe, family can be biased, but also brutally honest. I'd bet you make an amazing lasagna. I can imagine that being a bit of an emotional tightrope to tread. As a child, who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book?
Oh!!! That’s a hard question because there are SO many, but I do remember being obsessed with Dr. Seuss books, particularly Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
Have you found anything particularly helpful in keeping you inspired and writing these past couple of years?
Yes, it’s something I heard a very long time. It was along the lines that bad writing can be edited, but a blank page will always be a blank page. It allows me to forget perfection on that first draft and just get the story onto paper.
Also, the love for my country, Puerto Rico inspires me every day. A lot of what I write is to honor my heritage.
That's a wonderful piece of advice to remember. I've loved banyan trees, since I interacted with one in Hawaii years ago. What was your inspiration for The Tree of Hope?
In 2017, Hurricane Maria made its devastating landfall in Puerto Rico. It was the worst natural disaster on record to hit my country and caused widespread flooding, as well as a complete collapse of the island’s electrical grid and water systems. Many people lost their homes and thousands lost their lives. It was a heartbreaking humanitarian crisis.
The Tree of Hope is inspired by the true story of the banyan tree by the San Juan Gate, which got uprooted and fell into the sea because of the hurricane. However, it was miraculously rescued by the community. It is a story about perseverance and hope.
I wrote this book as a love letter to my people and in memory of the lives lost to hurricane Maria.
It is such a touching and encouraging book! Do you recall how many revisions The Tree of Hope took from first draft to publication? Had it always been written from the tree’s point of view?
I probably lost count to be honest! Not only did I continuously edit the stories for a few years, but also went through various revisions with my wonderful editor from Beaming Books.
In fact, the original story was from the tree’s point of view but subsequently, after having received some feedback in a critique group, I changed it to the point of view of the young girl that appears in it.
However, my editor thought that it was more powerful from the tree’s perspective, so I got to go back to the original version, which made me very happy as I loved focusing on the tree as the main character.
I am so glad they agreed with your original vision. It is such a powerful book told from the tree's perspective. So, what was the toughest aspect of writing The Tree of Hope?
Hurricane Maria was a devastating natural disaster, which not only caused serious physical damage and the loss of lives but left emotional scars on many people – both on the island and in the diaspora.
So, one of the toughest parts was ensuring that my story honored what my people went through and showcased their indomitable spirit in a joyful manner.
When you first saw Juan Manuel Moreno’s illustrations did anything surprise or amaze you? Which is your favorite spread?
Text © Anna Orenstein-Cardona, 2022. Image © Juan Manuel Moreno, 2022.
When I first received the cover art, I cried. It was so beautiful. I love every single spread in the book as well. One of my favorites for sure is where Juan Manuel depicts the passage of time to showcase what the tree had witnessed through the century. The colors and illustrations are just remarkable!
I was snagged by the gorgeous cover and awed by this and other images in the book! Juan did an amazing job illustrating this story. Is there anything you want your readers to know about or gain from The Tree of Hope?
I hope the book inspires readers to always have hope in the face of adversity and remember that as a community, we are always stronger!
Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I am currently working on a few different writing projects. I’m also re-editing my Middle Grade manuscript, which is about a secret society of superhero felines and hope to query it soon!
Best of luck with it. What is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?
100% it would have to be El Yunque in Puerto Rico. It is the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest Service and has such a diverse ecosystem. I am so grateful that it is recovering from the damages caused by hurricane Maria because it is truly a magical place.
It is stunning and one I look forward to visiting. Thank you, Anna for stopping by and sharing your time and thoughts with us. It was wonderful to chat with you.
Be sure to come back on Fridat for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF review of The Tree of Hope.
To find out more about Anna Orenstein-Cardona, or contact her: