Anna Crowley Redding is the author of the new young adult biography Elon Musk: A Mission to Save the World. She also has written the YA book Google It: A History of Google. She previously worked as a television investigative reporter and anchor.
Q: Why did you decide to write about Elon Musk?
A: My editor, Holly West, came to me with this amazing idea for a book. Already a space fan, I dove right in. My boys and I watch every SpaceX launch that we can. Holly is so excited about technology and the stories behind the scenes. So between her passion and mine, this book sprung to life!
Q: You begin the book with a discussion of comic book superhero Tony Stark. Why did you start there?
A: When you start with this parallel between Elon and Tony Stark, you are really looking at him the way most people do… this larger-than-life billionaire who is doing amazing things. But that’s a view from the outside looking in.
So, to start there and quickly pivot to Elon’s back story, his childhood (which is really heartbreaking at times), that approach gives us the chance to peel back the onion layers and really get to know who he is and what’s driving him.
That, to me, is an interesting way to immediately contrast the way the world sees Elon with who Elon really is by learning about these critical events that shaped him.
Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything especially surprising?
A: Researching this book was so much fun.
First step is following Elon’s Twitter feed and monitoring the oodles of daily headlines he generates.
Not only did I read every interview I could find and watch every piece of video that he’s appeared in, but I did something else super fun. I read all the books that were important to him and informed his thinking and the way he solves problems. And I listed them in the book so readers can do the same thing.
Full disclosure: I did not read the more technical information about rocketry!
Additionally, talking off-the-record to former employees was also hugely helpful in gaining context for the timeline and the stakes Elon’s always staring down.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from Musk's story?
A: I hope that readers take away his sense of commitment to humanity and the planet and his willingness to fail in order to try and solve problems.
One critical take away is this idea: don’t ever give up. We are facing huge problems as a species, catastrophic climate change being number one, and for young readers to see this one example of a problem solver, I think it’s important. This next generation has a tough road ahead and their critical thinking skills will be the difference.
Also, the bullying that Elon endured as a kid was so extreme and so painful and yet here he is...I truly hope that any young people who are facing that level of crisis in their own lives will be inspired by the way he survived.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Oh my goodness! I am hard at work on multiple projects right now and they range from picture book biography, to chapter book series, to another super science middle grade. And I’m so excited about them all.
This spring, my first picture book will debut and I just love the story. Rescuing the Declaration of Independence: How We Almost Lost the Words That Built America is a nonfiction picture book biography about a forgotten hero named Stephen Pleasonton.
This man was a lowly clerk at the state department during the War of 1812. And he gets this message from his boss, instructing him to save the “records.” Those records were the U.S. Constitution, Declaration of Independence, George Washington’s journals, and other critical documents.
So Stephen sets out on a wild journey to save the words that built this country. If not for him, they would have been destroyed by the British.
Best of all, this book is illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham who is so talented and his treatment of this story is so energetic and engaging. Oh, I just can’t wait! This book is being published by HarperCollins in April of 2020.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Keep watching Elon. It will be so interesting to see what catches his commitment and drive next. He is often leading the way to topics or problems or research areas that will soon be hugely important.
And one of the interesting things about Elon is he communicates about failure all the time. He doesn’t wait until the problem is solved to reveal the solution. He is constantly talking about the process. And that is so very interesting.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Anna Crowley Redding.