Monday, December 17, 2018

Q&A with Anne Renaud


Anne Renaud, photo by Magenta Photo Studio
Anne Renaud is the author of the new children's picture book biography The True Tale of a Giantess: The Story of Anna Swan. It focuses on the life of a 19th century Canadian woman who was extremely tall. Renaud's other books include Mr. Crum's Potato Predicament and Into the Mist. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Highlights and Faces, and she lives in Montreal.

Q: How did you learn about Anna Swan, and why did you decide to write a children's picture book about her?

A: I was researching another topic entirely on the Library and Archives Canada website and stumbled upon a page entitled "Cool Canada" which referenced Anna Swan. These web pages are now archived, but can be viewed here.

I had never heard of Anna before and jumped down the Google rabbit hole to find out as much as I could about her life. 

I thought her story had mass kid appeal. It wove such elements as the bizarre and unusual, adventure and adversity, and a fairy-tale like love story. I felt she was a notable Canadian historical figure whose life story should be recorded for young readers.

Q: What kind of research did you need to do to tell Anna's story? 

A: Whenever I embark on a picture book biography project, my first step is to try to find relatives. In Anna's case I was extremely fortunate. I was able to find Dale Swan, who is Anna's great-grandnephew. He provided me with a wealth of background information, including ample visual material. 

Dale also put me in contact with Anna's great-grandniece, Diane Shink, as well as Rhonda Cookenour, who is the third great-grandniece of Anna's husband, Martin Van Buren Bates.

I eventually made my way to Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia, where Dale lives. Tatamagouche is also home to the Anna Swan Museum. Dale gave me a grand tour of the museum and of the geographic area, including the cemetery where Anna's relatives are buried. 

I read books on P.T. Barnum and liaised extensively by email with Adrienne Saint-Pierre, curator of the Barnum Museum in Connecticut. I also did online research of old newspapers for any mention of Anna Swan. 

Q: What do you think Marie Lafrance's illustrations add to the book? 

A: I love Marie's work. Her illustrations have a folk-art quality that marries beautifully with the text. She is incredibly attentive to detail and researched the time period thoroughly. 

Q: What do you hope kids take away from the book?

A: In addition to discovering this remarkable Canadian woman, I hope young readers will better understand and appreciate a) the need to be respectful and accepting of others despite their differences, and b) the importance and power of self-worth.

Despite the challenges imposed by her unusual size, Anna Swan was able to triumph with dignity and courage and lived an exciting and extraordinary life. She is the embodiment of the "This is Me" mantra and managed to find a way to fit into her world, both physically and emotionally. 

I hope the book will inspire those of us who do not always feel like we fit in. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I am finishing up editorial changes on a picture book biography on Frank Epperson, who is credited with the invention of the Popsicle. The book will be out in the fall of 2019.

I have also just completed a picture book biography on skating icon Barbara Ann Scott, and am trying to find a good home for this manuscript. I am also searching for new picture book biography topics. If you have any suggestions, I would be happy to hear them.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I write picture books in both English and French and regularly contribute articles and craft projects to U.S. and Australian children's magazines, such as Cricket, Spider, Highlights for Kids, Blast Off and Touch Down.

Also, I live in what I consider to be one of the best cities in the world, Montreal!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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