While Anna Crowley Redding’s background as an investigative TV news reporter may not seem like it lends itself to her current career as a children’s book author, she feels it does nothing but. As a reporter, Redding covered breaking news—everything from forest fires to crime—sometimes even from miles above.
“When you’re in the helicopter, a producer is talking in your ear for much of the time while you’re reporting live, plus you’re keeping an eye on the pilot for anything they need to tell you. I loved that challenge,” Redding says. “This was great training for writing for young readers because you learn how to quickly get to the heart of the matter. Like writing picture books, every word counts, and you can’t waste them.”
Redding’s experiences as investigative reporter ultimately helped her develop a trait that now inspires all her books: courage. “That’s really sort of a passion of mine, reminding people to be courageous, showing examples of other people who got through very difficult things,” she says. “I think we all need that reminder.”
Life isn’t always easy, Redding adds—something she knows firsthand. When she was little, her parents divorced, and her home life was complicated by addiction, frequent moves, and a great deal of instability. Yet many of the books she had access to featured seemingly “perfect” families. Redding, who shares she’s kept a journal since she was a little girl, wanted to write books about real kids dealing with real issues like she once did.
“Today as an adult, there are a lot of ways to make good on that promise I made myself,” she says. “Reporting was one way, but writing nonfiction for young readers also allows me to highlight the obstacles real people face and how they get past them. It’s very fulfilling.”
One of the series she loved most growing up was Nancy Drew. That’s because she had “so much pluck and agency and was busy solving real problems.” In fact, Redding’s latest picture book biography, Courage Like Kate: The True Story of a Girl Lighthouse Keeper, was crafted after reading an article that hit her right in what she calls her Nancy Drew heart.
Redding has an old habit from her days as a reporter of reading headlines in the middle of the night if she can’t sleep. One evening, in the wee hours, she came across an Associated Press article about a new Coast Guard ship that was being named after a woman from the early 1800s who started keeping a lighthouse on Fayerweather Island, Connecticut, at the age of 12 and saved lives.
“This was a time when women had few rights and were expected to be seen and not heard, so I had to know more,” Redding says. “If at 12 years old, I had known about Kate Moore and her heroism, her agency, and her get-up-and-go, what possibilities would I have imagined for myself?”
Writing about Kate in Courage Like Kate presented Redding with challenges because there aren’t any other books about her, and women’s contributions to society aren’t well documented in that period of history. Redding had to dig deep into primary sources to piece together Kate’s story—things like old maps, Census records, lighthouse payroll records, letters, and contemporaneous reports to Congress. Any scrap of paper she could get her hands on, really.
“This was a time when women had few rights and were expected to be seen and not heard, so I had to know more. If at 12 years old, I had known about Kate Moore and her heroism, her agency, and her get-up-and-go, what possibilities would I have imagined for myself?”
But the best source of all, Redding says, was the original lighthouse log Kate kept as part of her job. “Where other lighthouse keepers would write with drama about hurricanes and lives saved or lost, Kate was straightforward, dedicated, and diligent,” Redding shares. “Her tone told me so much about her. Plus, I was holding with my own hands a book that she also held. That’s kind of a cool feeling!”
With all her books, Redding draws on her past as a reporter to share the stories of real-life events and people with young readers. These include Rescuing the Declaration of Independence: How We Almost Lost the Words That Built America; Chowder Rules: The True Story of an Epic Food Fight; and The Gravity Tree: The True Story of a Tree That Inspired the World.
Redding has also penned biographies geared toward young adults like Elon Musk: A Mission to Save the World and a young adult nonfiction book about the history of Google.
For Redding, the writing process starts with reading. She reads all the time, whether books, magazines, news articles, museum displays, or historical markers. She especially loves historical fiction, which has always drawn her in to the point where she could imagine herself in any time period she was reading about.
And when she has a strong reaction to a newfound tidbit, the writer in Redding activates to dig deeper. “Is there a book here?” she says. “Once I latch on to a story idea, then I begin the research. This is the part I really enjoy: losing myself in historic maps, Census records, old newspaper articles, etc.”
The information Redding uncovers might help her nail down the story arc and plot points. Even in nonfiction, she says, the story needs both. “Once that’s on the page, I work by building each scene,” she says. “What did it look like? Smell like? Feel like? Then I spend a lot of time on word choice, rhythm, and pacing.” No matter what she’s doing, Redding can’t seem to leave the writer in her behind. She says she even thinks in blocks of text. “It’s part of how I process life and my emotions,” she explains.
In terms of her writing career, two of Redding’s proudest moments were when she won an Emmy for TV News Writing and when she sold her first book. For the latter, she remembers her agent calling her to tell her the news just as Redding was about to walk into her son’s parent/teacher conference.
“I burst into tears,” Redding says. “Then when I sat down with the teacher, she saw I had been crying and said, ‘Oh, honey, don’t worry. He’s a good boy!’ I explained they were happy tears about my first book deal, and we laughed together. I’ll always remember sharing that moment with her. Plus, she was an incredible teacher.”
Outside of her work, Redding enjoys spending time with her husband and five kids doing everything from cooking dinner together to building tree houses. Of course, she also loves to read, as well as “geek out on genealogy and stare at the night sky.”
The writing never stops, though. Redding is always working on new material, which currently includes picture books, chapter books, and even a young adult memoir. “All three of these projects push the limits of the craft which I love—telling a good story but with some new thinking on story structure, point of view, or a new approach,” she says. “It makes it fun!”
And when it comes to her North Star in life, it’s the same thing that inspires each and every one of her books. “Fear can tempt us to give up or play it small,” Redding says. “But courage, using courage ... the ability to keep going even when it feels scary the entire time ... that can deliver us to some special places.”
For more about Anna Crowley Redding and her books, visit annacrowleyredding.com.