AN INTERVIEW WITH JOANA PASTRO AUTHOR OF BISA’S CARNAVAL ILLUSTRATED BY CAROLINA…
THE GRAVITY TREE:
THE TRUE STORY OF A TREE THAT INSPIRED THE WORLD
Illustrated By Yas Imamura
(HarperCollins; $17.99, Ages 4 to 8)
★Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews
From Emmy Award-winning journalist Anna Crowley Redding comes a captivating nonfiction picture book that explores the fabled apple tree that inspired Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity. From a minor seed to a monumental icon, it inspired the world’s greatest minds, including Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking. This tale is an ode to the potential that exists in all of us to change the world
“A sweet windfall of history and inspiration.” —Kirkus (starred review)
“This picture book may resonate with science-minded children.” —Booklist.
Colleen Paeff: Hi Anna! Congratulations on the release of The Gravity Tree: The True Story of a Tree That Inspired the World. What sparked the idea for this book?
ACR: I came across an article that not only mentioned Isaac Newton’s apple tree, but mentioned there were descendants of the tree on every continent except Antarctica. Then I found out the original tree was still alive. It blew my mind!
CP: I love the way you start and end with the idea that something small can change the world. Was that story structure there in your early drafts or did it develop over time?
ACR: Thank you! Those were the first words I actually wrote because that’s what really struck me about this particular tree … that a tiny seed could indeed change everything. I loved the truth of it.
CP: Were you particularly surprised by anything you learned as you conducted your research?
ACR: I did not originally know that Albert Einstein had visited the tree until I stumbled upon a newspaper article written at the time of his visit. I could NOT believe it. I was literally jumping for joy in front of my computer. There was even a picture!
CP: What was your reaction when you saw Yas Imamura’s wonderful illustrations for the book?
ACR: Her work is just stunning. The texture, the layering, and the contrast. She uses these elements to really drive the visual storytelling. What surprised me is how her work has an innovative edge and yet feels very classic. I love that!
CP: Your books Elon Musk: A Mission to Save the World and Google It: A History of Google are for Young Adult readers. Black Hole Chasers: The Amazing True Story of an Astronomical Breakthrough (coming in September 2021) is for a middle-grade audience, and Rescuing the Declaration of Independence, Chowder Rules, and The Gravity Tree are all picture books. Is your research process different for picture books, middle grade, and YA?
ACR: My process is really the same in terms of learning as much as I can about a topic. With a longer format piece, I’ll dig way more into the details whereas picture books I’m constantly honed in on the heart of the story with every single word.
CP: Can you tell me three favorite research tips or resources that you wouldn’t want to be without?
ACR: The ability today to access primary sources from your computer is an unbelievable gift. And I love reading old newspaper articles, research papers, photos, contemporaneous drawings, and maps. But I also love talking to people and experts and asking lots of questions. That really helps with context. Eeep! I think that was more than three!
CP: No problem! The more the better. How do you decide which age level is most appropriate for a story idea?
ACR: Sometimes the amount of information available and the scope of a story will dictate that. But if ever I am debating it, I’ll check in with a librarian and look for books that handle similar material. And I will also talk to my agent and bounce these ideas and questions off of her. She has a sharp eye for this!
CP: Do you find it easier to write for one age group or another?
ACR: No! Each type of book comes with its own challenges and sweet spots!
CP: In addition to being a talented author, you’re an Emmy Award-winning investigative television reporter! Tell me about how you won that Emmy and what it felt like.
ACR: I was covering an ice storm in North Carolina and as my photographer shot video of line workers trying to restore power on the main lines. And there was a house nearby. And in the window was a little boy with his flashlight absolutely loving every minute the whole show… the ice, the workers, the trucks, the power outage, the flashlights… all of it. We found him just four hours before deadline and put together a story that celebrated the childhood joy of ice storms. I loved everything about it. Winning an Emmy for that story was really an honor. It was a difficult category to win. But as a little girl, I never dreamed that such a thing was possible for me. And so it felt really rewarding. And I was sure to mention that little boy by name in my acceptance speech!
CP: Wow! It really sounds like you were meant to tell children’s stories! What are some skills you used as an investigative television reporter and news anchor that have served you well in your career as an author of books for children?
ACR: The research skills have come in super handy and not quitting. Becoming a TV News Reporter can be as impossible as becoming a published author … so not giving up is super important. In both fields you need to put your work in front of people who know more about it than you do and get their feedback and learn from it. It’s scary, humbling, and SUPER helpful. So having a thick skin or ability to receive criticism is useful.
CP: Do you think you’ll ever go back to reporting the news on television?
ACR: No plans for that at this stage. I love writing for children and young adults. There is a freedom and creativity to it that I just adore.
CP: You co-lead a couple weekly audio chat rooms for writers on Clubhouse, and I’m always so impressed with how welcoming and encouraging you are to new writers who join in. As I read your incredibly moving blog post, If Not for Tom Ellis: The Mentor Who Changed My Life and the Lessons he Leaves Behind, I found myself wondering if part of the appeal of Clubhouse for you is that it allows you to play a mentorship role for aspiring authors. Do you think that’s true?
ACR: Thank you for reading that post. Tom Ellis was a superstar Boston TV anchor who was so generous to me with his time, talent, and expertise. And I think we all need someone to remind us that we can accomplish difficult things and then give us some tools to get there. So, yes, having been the recipient of enormous generosity in both of my careers makes me so excited to hopefully be that little beacon of light to others who may need it. It’s also wonderful to join with other authors, illustrators, and agents to do that together, as a group. It’s been very moving and rewarding for me.
CP: I know you love visiting schools. Can you tell me about a school visit activity that’s been especially successful and fun?
ACR: I love handing kids a clipboard, magnifying glass, some primary sources that relate to a particular book or story, and then asking them to prove or disprove the story based on their research. It’s so much fun and the kids love it!
CP: What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you on a school visit?
ACR: I got a migraine headache midway through. The teacher had Excedrin on hand. I took it. It did not touch this headache. I was leading a super hands-on writing exercise and I was starting to sweat from the pain. There were just twenty minutes left of the clock. I was desperate–begging God to get me through it. Finally, the school bell rings. YES! And then the active-shooter alarm is activated. We had to hide in the dark library. Thirty minutes later the police cleared the school. All was well and I grabbed my special tote Macmillan gave me and started to drive for home. But at a stoplight I was overcome with migraine nausea. Quickly dumped the books out of my special tote … and threw up in it!
CP: Oh no!!! That’s terrible! At least you made it out of the school before you threw up. Haha! Let’s move on to a happier topic. What’s the best part about being a children’s book author?
ACR: I think when you have the opportunity to enter the sacred space of a book being held by a child … it’s like being the honored host of a critically important conversation, a special experience that could shape this young person by inspiring them, or seeing them, or making them laugh, or regain hope. I mean, how awesome is that?!
CP: Is there anything else I should have asked you?
ACR: Do you actually know Colleen Paeff?
ACR: Yes, she is incredibly talented, a very nice person, and everyone should buy The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem and follow her on Instagram. (Seriously, you will not be disappointed.)
CP: Aw! Thank you! That’s very kind. What’s next for you?
ACR: I’m working on a couple of picture books right now that I am wild about. And I’ve decided to try my hand at memoir writing and have to say, I really love it.
CP: How exciting! Based on what I know about your life so far that is a memoir I will definitely want to read. Thanks for chatting, Anna, and best of luck with The Gravity Tree and all your upcoming projects.
ACR: Thank you so much! This was so much fun and such a thoughtful conversation and I really appreciate it!
Anna Crowley Redding is the author of Chowder Rules!, Rescuing the Declaration of Independence, Google It, Elon Musk: A Mission to Save the World, and Black Hole Chasers. The recipient of multiple Edward R. Murrow and Associated Press awards, Crowley Redding uses her Emmy award-winning investigative reporting skills to dig into compelling topics that are shaping our world. Her works have been translated into multiple languages, garnered national news coverage, and been recognized by the National Association of Science Teachers for excellence. Crowley Redding lives outside of Portland, Maine with her family.
FOR MORE ON ANNA CROWLEY REDDING:
ABOUT INTERVIEWER COLLEEN PAEFF:
Colleen Paeff is the author of The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (available August 31, 2021, from Margaret K. McElderry Books) and Rainbow Truck, co-authored with Hina Abidi and illustrated by Saffa Khan (available in the spring of 2023 from Chronicle Books). Click here for more info.