By Chana Stiefel
Welcome Anna Forrester! Anna's beautiful picture book, BAT COUNT (illustrated by Susan Detweiler, Arbordale), debuted this month. Find out the backstory of Anna's bat story & walk away with some great Tuesday Takeaways. Plus, enter to win a free signed copy of the book below!
What inspired you to write your book?
A colony of bats lives in the barn of my family’s place in central Pennsylvania, and when we heard that scientists were asking people to track summer bat colonies as part of an effort to understand White Nose Syndrome, we decided to get involved.
Counting bats turned out to be strangely fun. As the sky changes, you lie there by the fire, watching. It can take an hour for them to come out, and it ends up being an incredibly relaxing way to end a day.
Also, my kids – like many kids today – are very aware of the ecological challenges the planet and so many of its species are facing. BAT COUNT is the story of one particular, worried child getting involved in citizen science and trying to make a difference; I hope that it will plant a seed in the minds and hearts of some of its young readers.
How does the final draft compare with the first draft?
BAT COUNT is long by many of today’s standards – almost 1,000 words – but it is a lot shorter than it used to be! It was one of my first picture book projects, and I put it aside once I started to get a sense of the norms of today’s trade market and realized there probably wasn’t a place for it in there. When I read that Arbordale, an educational publisher, was looking for math- and science-themed picture books, 1,000 words or less, I edited it down and pitched it as a book about bats and citizen science. The structure actually never changed too much – which is SO not the case for anything else I write – but the ending took lots of work.
Describe your writing journey.
I’ve always loved picture books, and wrote my first one 20+ years ago as my Master's thesis at Bank Street College. I fiddled around with a few more kids writing projects back then, but stopped when I decided to study landscape architecture.
Do you have an agent?
No agent – yet!
Do you have a critique group? How does it work?
I have been in a real-time, 8-person, monthly critique group of picture book writers for a couple years here in Philly. Recently our waiting list got so long that we started a second group, and I go to that one once a month now too: it is mostly writer-illustrators, so is different from my first group in interesting ways.
I have a few critique partners I met through the 12 x 12 Challenge, and a few other writer friends I’ve met along the way who I share work with, digitally – a couple, even, from our awesome 2017 Picture The Books’ cohort! (Check out Picture the Books, featuring this year's debut picture books, where Anna & I are members!)
Did you have any part in choosing your illustrator? Did you include illustration notes in your manuscript?
I had no part in choosing BAT COUNT’s illustrator, and the manuscript had no illustration notes (the narrative is pretty traditional). But Arbordale did ask for my thoughts at the beginning of the process: I said that I really wanted the pages to have a lot of sky, and that I didn’t see any reason Jojo’s family needed to be white.
What were your favorite picture books growing up?
Evaline Ness’s SAM BANGS AND MOONSHINE was a favorite, as was Marie Hall Ets’ PLAY WITH ME. There was a lot of Dr. Seuss and Robert McCloskey and Maurice Sendak floating around our house too. I was the youngest of four, and my (busy) mom read out loud to us a TON. She’d been an English major in college, and she took this course at The Great Books Foundation so she could go in to schools and do read-aloud programs. She is a great reader, and practiced a LOT on us, so I did a ton of listening to all sorts of stories too.
What is one takeaway you’d like to share with aspiring authors?
Try to understand why you write – your “writer’s purpose.” Whether you come from a marketing place or an artistic place or some other place entirely, try to know why you’re doing what you do.
I’ve read a couple pieces about this – (here and here) and, honestly, I’m not sure I’ll ever be done figuring it out for myself. Plus aspects of my purpose will probably keep shifting over time. But the process of trying to sort it out (by writing, of course) is invaluable to me – I absolutely recommend it.
Thank you Anna! Anna is generously offering a free signed copy of BAT COUNT to one lucky person (U.S. only). To enter, please check out the Rafflecopter below Anna's bio.
Anna Forrester has taught kindergarten and second grade, and designs landscapes for play. She writes picture books, chapter books and middle grade novels. Anna’s debut picture book, Bat Count (Arbordale, February 2017), is a ‘ficinformational’ story of bats, citizen science and hope. Anna loves books and she loves exploring – in Philadelphia where she lives, in rural Pennsylvania on her family’s farm, and in all the places her adventures take her. Visit Anna at her website or on Twitter .
Donna Cangelosi and Chana Stiefel are picture book critique partners & friends who are passionate about kids' books & are eager to share tidbits from their writing journey with other aspiring writers.