Anna generously took the time to answer some questions for us. Here she discusses children's books--both writing them and experiencing them--and the kind of impact they can have both personally and on a much larger scale.
You can find part two of our interview here.
As a child, what role did books play in your home? Was reading enjoyed as entertainment?
Anna Branford: Books were a very important part of my early life. I still have some of my original childhood copies with inscriptions handwritten by my grandmother, who must have been sending them all over the globe! One of the reasons I think books mattered a great deal to me in my childhood was that we moved a great many times, so there was a lot of leaving homes and schools and friends and familiarity behind. Books made portable worlds where things remained constant. Even when the books themselves were left behind, in the new edition at a new school library I was able to find everything just where I’d left it. I still enjoy that feature of books when the world around me seems to be changing too fast.
Your own reading tastes are varied, from a love for the Ramona stories to bell hooks. There’s a great quote about Ramona — "She represents the kind of girl who has not been subdued by adults or the world in general." I’d love to know if this impacts how and why you write for children.
AB: That is a marvelous quote, and I agree with it very much. Ramona was and is a favorite of mine because she lets the reader right into her world and the funny tangles of her thoughts. She is good but not too good, in a way that makes her beautifully relatable and easy to feel very fond of. And because she never allowed herself to be subdued, none of it was ever compromised.
What are the challenges and opportunities you face as a writer for children?
AB: One of the challenges is creating stories for children in which there is magic, beauty and hope while being very aware that for many children life is incredibly difficult. In all of my children’s writing I would love to be able to lend a few extra details to the kind of inner life that a child might be able to carry with them through whatever is going on in the world around them, and find strength and solace in. That aim is both a challenge and an opportunity, I think.
I can’t resist adding a quote from hooks: “Life-transforming ideas have always come to me through books.” What to you is the value of early childhood reading?
AB: Another wonderful quote. My favorite parts of books, whether for children or adults, are the parts that allow people to feel understood in the very feelings, thoughts and experiences they’d imagined were theirs alone. Without intruding or presuming, books offer us company in the strangest corners of our minds. Many a transformative sentence begins “You know that feeling when…” followed by something that sounds obscure but in fact goes right to the heart of the actual experience of being a person. It’s as true when you’re five as when you’re fifty, and just as important, I think.