Once upon a time, I was an English major specializing in poetry writing. College was the first place I’d ever heard of Anne Bradstreet, the first American female poet who just happened to be a pilgrim. Amazing! Today’s picture book is all about her, written by her great-great-great-something-grand daughter!
Katie Munday Williams is a Public Health Nurse, Lactation Consultant, and Author. She lives in Santa Cruz, CA with her husband and two children, where they enjoy digging for sand crabs and gawking at whales. Katie has always been an avid reader and has loved rediscovering picture books as a mom and writer. You can learn more about her at her website and/or follow her on Twitter.
Poet, Pilgrim, Rebel: The Story of Anne Bradstreet, America’s First Poet is her debut picture book, released earlier this month from Beaming Books. It is a nonfiction picture book biography that tells the story of Anne Bradstreet from a young age, her trip to America, and her journey to publication. Did I mention that Anne was a Puritan and girls weren’t allowed to attend school or express opinions? But both her father and the man she would end up falling in love with and marrying (her father’s assistant) loved hearing her opinions and encouraged her. How amazing to think that despite many challenges in her life, she managed to find her voice and write such beautiful words. I found this book incredibly inspiring to me personally.
Me: You are a nurse, a mom, and a writer! What is it then that draws you to writing picture books?
Katie: I’ve always loved picture books—I think it has to do with the way the illustrations blend with the words to create a heightened reading experience. But once I had children, I became completely obsessed with them! I find them extremely entertaining and love turning to them to help answer my children’s many questions. As a writer, I felt that I should write what I know, and since I’ve been reading picture books to my kids for the last decade, it felt like an easy choice. Plus, the opportunity to help children learn about amazing women like Anne Bradstreet feels like an incredible opportunity.
Me: I understand you are related to Anne Bradstreet. What was it about her story that grabbed you when you first found out about her? What drew you to write about it now?
Katie: As I learned more about Anne, I felt a deep connection to her that went beyond writing. Anne lived during a time when women were forced to keep their thoughts and opinions hidden, encouraged to not have them at all, really. I was always a very shy child, and while nobody told me I had to be silent, it took me a long time to find my own voice, much like Anne. The more I read about Anne, the more I realized that she was, in fact, a very early feminist. I felt right at home with her wit and wanted children to know about this extraordinary woman.
Me: I love that. This is your first picture book and a nonfiction biography at that. What made you want to write a nonfiction story? Was it hard to write a “true” story about someone you were related to and may have “known” in so few words?
Katie: Anyone who writes knows that sometimes stories just find you. While I had wanted to write non-fiction for a while, I hadn’t found any topics that really spoke to me. Once I started thinking about a biography on Anne Bradstreet though, I literally couldn’t get it out of my head. Non-fiction is tricky, but I love it because it’s like a puzzle with too many pieces. Finding the theme(s), trimming all the excess details, finding your angle—these aspects are extremely challenging, but also a lot of fun. I didn’t find it hard to write a ‘true’ story about someone I was supposedly related to, but what I did find hard was knowing where to draw the line between what was definitely true and what was possibly true.
Me: Did you have to do a lot of research for this story? Can you tell us a bit about that process?
Katie: I was lucky to have a source that made my research a LOT easier. The book, Mistress Bradstreet, by Charlotte Gordon is a fascinating read and included more details about her life than any other source I found. I was also able to use her references to search out additional information which really helped. I also spent a lot of time combing through historical websites trying to glean bits of information that would give me a glimpse into what Anne’s life had been like and what her motivations had been for writing.
Me: Anne Bradstreet persevered in pursuing her dream of being a writer, despite possible backlash. She could’ve even given up due to the many hardships she faced in her life, but she didn’t. Why is this an important subject you think young readers should hear about?
Katie: Persevering through challenges is a timeless theme, and one that kids can never hear enough. It’s so easy to get discouraged, especially when you’re told over and over that you’re “too little.” I want young readers to understand that they’re not alone and that the true meaning of being brave isn’t a lack of a fear, it’s doing something despite your fear.
Me: Tania Rex’s illustrations in this book are wonderful. Were there any illustration surprises for you? What is your favorite illustration?
Katie: Tania did such an amazing job with the illustrations, the only surprise really was how much they exceeded my wildest expectations! She managed to really capture the emotions of the story while still portraying Anne as a placid Puritan wife, all in a very kid-friendly style. It’s so hard to pick just one favorite, but I think I’d have to go with the spread where Anne is asleep at her table, surrounded by her papers. There was just something so heartfelt and relatable about that image!
Me: Any advice for other new picture book writers?
Katie: Keep writing!!! Take advantage of forums, join a critique group or two (forums and Facebook groups are a great way to find groups if you’re looking), and take every webinar you can get your hands on. There are so many free or low-cost resources out there that it’s not too hard to hone your craft if you’re willing to put in the time. The most wonderful thing about writing is the community—I’ve never “met” such an incredibly accessible and generous group of people and really encourage all writers to take full advantage of it.
That’s good advice. Thank you for stopping by my blog Katie.
Dear readers, if you haven’t had a chance yet to read this book, track it down. It’s a story of perseverance that I think many of us writers can appreciate right now as we face the obstacles in our world, as well as publishing. I know I did.