Monday, February 24, 2014

Anna was Here by Jane Kurtz: Interview and Review

Anna Was Here Blog Tour Stop
Hi Jane! I'm so happy you could join us, and that I have the opportunity to ask such an inspiring author some questions. Thank you so much! This is my first author interview ever, so I am really excited, and this means so much!

Jane Kurtz is the author of many books for children and young adults. Her novel Anna was Here came out in 2013. She spent her childhood in Ethiopia with her missionary parents and siblings, and now works hard to inspire others through her experiences and writing.

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your childhood in Ethiopia?
Of course.Anna Was Here is partly a book about how hard it is to move and switch your heart from one place to another and from one group of people to another—and those feelings in me are rooted back to the time I was two-years-old when my parents decided to work for the Presbyterian Church in Ethiopia.  I loved growing up without television or radio.  I wouldn’t trade my childhood for anything.  I’ve tried hard—through many of my books—to show some of the details that intrigued me so much from hyenas to savannah animals to communities that still take time for music and stories and family.  But my childhood also meant I was on the go…back to the US for a year when I was 7 and again when I was 13.  Moving between Addis Ababa and the remote countryside.Never completely settling down.

Did you feel like an Ethiopian? How did your time there impact the rest of your life as well as your writing?
Right.  That’s the thing—I knew I wasn’t Ethiopian.  In those few years I spent in the US, I also knew I wasn’t completely American.  Some people call kids like me “third culture kids” because we never feel completely part of our parents’ culture OR the culture of the country where we’re living.  Feeling like an outsider is great training for writing, though.  I’m unusually close to my own siblings, who were the only people in the boat I was in, and we all are passionate about reading and writing, partly because of our mother’s modeling and partly because that was one way we found our balance in a sometimes confusing world.

After living in Ethiopia, what was it like to come back to the United States?
Anna Was Here shows my fascination with people who stay in one place their whole lives.  My husband grew up on a farm in Kansas, and every time we visited there, I was astonished at the different journey for someone who has to get along—and gets to get along--with one set of neighbors and community members for an entire life.  It has taken me a long time to grow roots in the U.S.

What is one thing that you would like to tell people that wish to help others and make the world a better place?
Figure out what you love to do and see if there are ways to use what you love to also make things better for someone else.  Sometimes I think we emphasize the sacrifice of helping out.  One problem with that is how hard it is to be helped when you feel someone else is doing it as a duty.  But when there’s an atmosphere of generosity and listening and kindness, I saw from the time I was a child that doing what you can to make the world a better place is a joyful way to live.  I volunteer with a project that is getting books to kids in Ethiopia ( and I try to make sure my efforts come from a place of delight and good, hard thinking about times when helping is actually harmful and when it truly helps.

How did you come up with the idea for Anna Was Here?
I’m a preacher’s kid but my kids are also preacher’s kids.  When we were moving from Colorado to North Dakota, my kids were about the age that Anna is.  We stopped for a few weeks to visit their grandparents in Kansas.  On the long drive from Colorado to Kansas, our cat did, in fact, hide under the seat.  A novel requires a whole bunch of ideas, but that’s where the story was first born.

Would you say that you or someone you know is like Anna? If so, in what ways?
Although it pains me to admit it, I’m a lot like Anna.  It seemed to me that my parents were in over their heads a lot of the time and that it was up to me to think about Plan B.  A friend of mine said, “When we studied the Ice Age in fourth grade, I started making plans for my family if there was another Ice Age.”  That’s me, too.  And that’s Anna.  I’m also someone who grew up in a family that took the Bible seriously—and how can you do that and not have questions about things like children in Ethiopia who don’t get a chance to go to school and read books?  I’ve had lifelong questions about such things…and found a few answers.

I loved how Anna was so inquisitive and curious, her concern for her cat, and how she learned about God and family throughout the book. Was it challenging to write the character of a nine/ten year old?
That’s always a huge challenge…to get into the heart and mind of a kid and remember what you felt in those times.  Luckily, I had lots of kids around me to remind me when I got off track.  Every Sunday in church, for example, I sit behind a group of kids, so they were constant inspiration.

I loved reading Anna's safety tips! They were so entertaining and informative. How did you come up with this idea? Were they fun to write?
Hahahahaha.  I love the safety tips, too.  The first idea came when I was doing a school visit and saw some posters on the wall of the school.  Then I read a book about survival techniques and thought about how Anna might, like me, be highly intrigued with, say, how to get out of an Egyptian pyramid.  Aren’t we all fascinated with stories of people who have managed to find a creative way out of a terrible situation?  I certainly am.  So writing those tips was one of the most fun parts of the book—even though they are about deadly serious situations.  I remember hearing a radio report about feral hogs in Kansas, for example, and thinking, “Perfect!”

Just for fun

Do you enjoy being outside or inside most?
I’m quite fond of both.  I wrote a book for the American Girl doll of the year in 2010 about a girl who says she was born with “outside genes.”  That was my dad—and he got us outside exploring and digging in the dirt, which I still love to do.  My mom had the “inside genes.”  She passed on her love of reading and writing to all of her children.

What is your favorite animal?
A bush baby.  I saw them on the savannah when I was a child and was entranced.  But it doesn’t take long in reading my books to also see how fond I am of cats.  Dogs got their day in Anna Was Here, thanks to my brother—who wrote a novel for young readers about a pig who wants to be a sled dog (Adventures of a South Pole Pig) and who has a dog I walk sometimes.

Where is your favorite place to travel, and where would you like to travel that you haven't been to?
I’ve spoken in all but 10 of the United States and also done author visits in China, Japan, several European countries, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, several countries around the Persian Gulf, Indonesia, the Philippines…I love seeing any place in the world and the surprises that come with traveling.

What do you like to do when you aren't writing or helping others?
Lanie, the character I invented for American Girl, learns that what we plant and the way we care for the soil can make a difference for butterflies and birds and bees—and I learned from Lanie!  Before that book, I’d had a vegetable garden but now I love to learn about native plants where I live (Portland, Oregon) and work on my rather scruffy yard to see what I can do with trees and groundcover and my compost bin and all kinds of cool things.   I even like digging up dandelions!

Thanks again to Jane Kurtz for appearing. For other stops on the Anna was Here blog tour please check

 5 out of 5 stars
Anna was Here by Jane Kurtz
Anna was Here by Jane Kurtz was a fun read that is perfect for children, even teens and adults can learn something from Anna's experiences! As Anna moved from Colorado to Kansas (what a big difference) even if it was temporary, she still had to deal with moving to a new place, being away from her friends and everything that is familiar. I can imagine how tough that would be.

Anna's had a great relationship with her family (and Midnight H. Cat) in the beginning, but went through some bumps throughout the book that she learned from. She was very smart for her age! She was so concerned with safety, I really enjoyed reading Anna's safety tips and I thought that they were a nice added detail to the book.

Kansas was filled with people that were related to her, which could cause some problems as well as solve some! The characters were very relateable, Anna's friendship with Morgan and the time she spent helping at the farm were entertaining and humorous.

While being faced with many situations, Anna learned a lot about God, family, friendship, who is in control of her life, and much more. It is a laugh out loud book and is especially great for young readers.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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