Ten-year-old Anna Nickel is moving from Colorado to Kansas, and she is not happy about leaving her friends behind! This is a moving, often humorous coming-of-age story about family, faith, God’s love, and the meaning of home, perfect for fans of Katherine Paterson and The Penderwicks.
Ten-year-old Anna Nickel’s worst nightmare has come true. Her father has decided to move the family back to Oakwood, Kansas—where he grew up—in order to become the minister of the church there. New friends, new school, a new community, and a family of strangers await, and what’s even worse, it’s all smack-dab in the middle of Tornado Alley. Anna has always prided herself on being prepared (she keeps a notebook on how to cope with disasters, from hurricanes to shark bites), but she’ll be tested in Oakwood! This beautifully written novel introduces a family who takes God’s teachings to heart while finding many occasions to laugh along the way, and an irrepressible and wholesome ten-year-old who, with a little help from Midnight H. (her cat), takes control of her destiny.
Jane Kurtz was born in Portland, Oregon, but when she was two years old, her parents moved to Ethiopia. Jane grew up in Maji, a small town in the southwest corner of the country.
Since there were no televisions, radios, or movies, her memories are of climbing mountains, wading in rivers by the waterfalls, listening to stories, and making up her own stories, which she and her sisters acted out for days at a time.
By the time Jane came back to the United States for college, she felt there was no way to talk about her childhood home to Americans. It took nearly twenty years to finally find a way – through words and stories. Now she often speaks in schools and at conferences, talking about the writing and revision process and how she uses memories, observation, and research to create her books.
Jane has published more than 30 books, fiction, nonfiction, picture books, novels for young readers, and ready-to-reads. Some are based on her childhood in Ethiopia. Some draw on her own children, such as ANNA WAS HERE, a novel for young readers that asks life’s big questions about pain and disaster–and offers a few puny answers.
Since her childhood in Ethiopia, Jane has lived in Illinois, Colorado, North Dakota, Kansas and–now–back in Portland, Oregon.
If you could travel in a Time Machine would you go back to the past or into the future.
My childhood is an endless source of fascination for me, and it’s right where I’d point that time machine. When I was two years old, my parents decided to move their young family to Ethiopia, and I loved growing up in such a magical and remote area of the world when the savannah was churning with life—ostriches, zebras, hippos, eland—and when I got to see tall warriors with their spears and shepherd boys with their gourd flutes. I was surrounded by so much adventure and so much to learn and see and soak up all the time. I’d gladly spend a few days back there.
Were you scared of writing a book about a preacher’s kid?
Are you kidding? I was terrified. My whole childhood was full of squirminess over being a preacher’s kid—and one growing up in Ethiopia. When we traveled to the U.S. every five years, I felt the pressure of adults having expectations or making assumptions about who I was or who my family was. Kids thought my life was just weird. I didn’t want to open up those feelings again. But my publisher was great about giving me support and assuring me that questions about why bad things happen in this world or how to cope with being out of control are questions for families of any faith. In the end, I was stubborn about not getting my voice shut out.
Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
Has to be the opportunity to return to Ethiopia to do author visits in international schools. At the time, I thought I’d never, ever have the money to see the beautiful land of my childhood. My first time back led to a volunteer project—Ethiopia Reads (www.ethiopiareads.org) –focused on getting books into kids’ hands in Ethiopia. And THAT led to my own son and daughter’s volunteering in one of the libraries and my son’s marrying the bookkeeper in the library, which led to Ethiopian-American grandkids. Wow. Talk about the circle of life.
If you could jump into a book and live in that world, what would it be?
Over Christmas, I got a chance to read Magic Marks the Spot with my 8-year-old granddaughter, and she was immediately ready to run off and become a pirate. I sort of felt like I did live in that world for a few days, because she and her brother and I created a pirate ship—The Claw—and painted it and created a skull and crossbones flag and jewels and even a gargoyle (that used to be a bat in another incarnation) as the masthead. I also had to study for and pass a pirate quiz.
Who are your favorite authors of all time?
I adore reading. I teach part-time at Vermont College MFA in children’s literature, and I’m super fond of my fellow faculty members that I share a dorm with—Kathi Appelt and Rita Williams-Garcia and Betsy Partridge and A.S. King and Tim Wynne-Jones and others. I also do a yearly writing retreat with some of the most fun, laughing, generous, smart authors in the world: Nancy Werlin, Debbie Wiles, Jo Stanbridge, Dian Curtis Regan, Toni Buzzeo, Franny Billingsley, Jackie Briggs Martin and Jennifer Jacobson. It’s so cool to see a manuscript go from a vague idea to something gripping to read. But my absolute favorite author is my brother, Chris Kurtz. He’s co-authored two picture books with me and published two chapter books, The Pup Who Cried Wolf and The Adventures of a South Pole Pig. I love his humor and sensitivity and watching him grow and take risks.
Do your friends or enemies ever find themselves in your books?
My kids are probably the people who find themselves most vividly inside my books. When I wrote my first draft of Anna Was Here, the protagonist was a boy because my son David’s voice was strongly in my head. He was in fourth grade when we moved from Colorado to Kansas–about Anna’s age. But my youngest child, my daughter, eventually became my writing and reading buddy, and her voice and sensibility got in there in a powerful way as Anna became Anna.
What made you decide to write Anna Was Here as a middle grade novel?
An editor at American Girl asked me to write the stories of the Doll of the Year 2010, and it was such a hoot and such a pleasure meeting and talking to those 8, 9, 10-year-old readers that I couldn’t wait to try my hand at another book for readers of that age
Write a haiku about your book.
I can keep us safe.
No, no wait. I can’t. I can’t!
What sense does that make?
Can you see yourself in any of your characters?
I’m absolutely in Anna. In my novel Jakarta Missing, I created a worry wart protagonist. The thing about Anna, though, is that she finds the world huge and terrifying but she has utter confidence that she can—and must–keep her family safe. About ten years ago, I was hiking with two of my sisters in Kenya reading signs about flash floods that can fill up the valley we were in—and I realized I was thinking strategically about how I’d save us. Mind you, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky at the time. That’s Anna…and me.
What’s your favorite safety tip from Anna Was Here?
I’m relieved that I now know to break out if I get accidentally sealed in an Egyptian pyramid.
What’s the easiest part of writing a novel for you?
Some of the things I love most as a reader were also things my editor praised in my novel from the first draft—dialogue, humor, vivid details of character and setting.
What’s the hardest?
Plot. I envy those writers who can put together a rip-roaring page-turner. Because I tend to read for voice and character and setting—and don’t actually like tension–I have to be a constant student of plot. That’s part of the fun of writing, though. It will never be old or boring for me.
3 copies of Anna Was Here
Open to US only