Dr. Diane's Adventures in Learning

Opossums, Octopuses, and Puffins -- Meet Ann Braden, a Judy Blume for this generation

September 20, 2023 Dr Diane Jackson Schnoor Season 3 Episode 7
Dr. Diane's Adventures in Learning
Opossums, Octopuses, and Puffins -- Meet Ann Braden, a Judy Blume for this generation
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Show Notes Transcript

Meet Ann Braden, a modern day Judy Blume, who has written the most wonderful, sensitive middle grade books about that time in your life when you're struggling between being a child and being an adult.  Today we explore the inspiration behind The Benefits of Being an Octopus, Flight of the Puffin, and her latest book, Opinions and Opossums. Join us for a conversation that explores the challenges and joys of writing about real issues for this young audience and the importance of finding and using your voice. 

[00:50] Discussion about Ann Braden's Writing Journey 

  • Discovering a passion for writing and activism.
  • Self-doubt and early reluctance to write — and pivotal moments that changed things

[07:03] A golden age of middle grade writing

  • Authors who inspire Ann
  • Representation of diverse emotions and experiences.

[08:54 Inspiration for Ann's Characters 

  • The inspiration behind Ann’s unique heroines — and connections to the author

[11:30] How Opinions and Opossums reflects the author’s childhood and struggles with self-doubt and religion.

  • Questioning societal norms and why adolescents often lose their self-confidence.
  • Struggles boys also face regarding societal expectations and limitations.

[17:08] Opinions and Opossums origin story

[17:29] Ann’s writing process.

  • Practice of jotting down one idea per day for two months.
  • Bullet journals and colored pens
  • Exploring Theme, Setting, Plot, and Characters.
  • Connecting unique animals to the theme

[19:16] Flight of the Puffin

  • Themes of unity and connection
  • Importance of moving beyond surface-level discussions.
  • Significance of finding ways to connect, act, and belong.

[24:30] Origins of Local Love Brigade 

  • Sending postcards with messages of love and support to counter hate mail
  • Impact of acts of kindness and community engagement.
  • Connecting to library camps

[29:31] Origins of #KidsNeedBooks #KidsNeedMentors

[32:05] Issues that inspire Ann’s activism.

{35:42] Current sources of joy.

[38:25] How to counter book banning

  • Drawing parallels to Ann’s activism in gun control.
  • The importance of finding like-minded individuals and standing up against bullies.

[43:41] Balancing sensitivity and strength.
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[00:01] Dr Diane: Wonder, curiosity, connection. Where will your adventures take you? I'm Dr. Diane and thank you for joining me on today's episode of Adventures in Learning. So, welcome to the Adventures in Learning podcast. I am here today with somebody I view as a modern day Judy Blume. She has written the most wonderful, sensitive books about that time in your life when you're struggling between being a child and being an adult. Her books are so sensitive and they touch on things that I don't see in a lot of other children's literature. She's written The Benefits of Being an Octopus, Flight of the Puffin, and her latest book is Opinions and Opossums. Welcome to the show, Ann Braden.

[00:50] Ann Braden: Thank you so much for having me. I am honored. And gosh, what an intro.

[00:55] Dr Diane: I was rereading your books in preparation for today. I met you when we were doing the Frostburg Children's Literature Conference and I read Opinions and Opossums in one gulp. Like, I couldn't put it down. I was so taken with Agnes and her struggles to figure out the religion class and to navigate finding independence and helping her mother find her. It just, it reminded me so much of the best of Judy Blume and it certainly didn't hurt that I read it at the same time as Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret Then I went back and I read the other books and you've got just such a sensitivity to the way you write.

[01:42] Ann Braden: You know, being sensitive in life can be hard, but it's great when you find your way to use it as a superpower.

[01:51] Dr Diane: And I want to delve into the books in a few moments, but before we do, for our listeners, I was going to start with the question I usually ask everybody, which is to describe your own adventure in learning. You haven't always been a writer. How did you get to the point that you became a writer and an activist?

[02:07] Ann Braden: Yeah, well, it's ironically very much book based, even though when I was growing up, I never thought that writing was something I could do. It was like on the list, the top of the list of things I could not do. And part of that meant that I never wrote, I never considered writing. And part of the reason behind that was it's just I never felt like I was as good as the people around me. There's plenty of reasons why that wasn't true, but it's still what I thought. And so one turning point moment was when I was twelve, I read Cynthia Voigt's Homecoming, and for me that really put into perspective my struggles. Like, they were nothing compared to what the hero on that page was doing. And it's not like she was slaying dragons, she was dealing with life. And that really sort of made me realize I could find a strength in myself that I hadn't been focused on before. And then another key turning point. Well, after I graduated college, I did not know what I wanted to do. I did a last minute bartending class just because I was like, quick, I need a job. But I was waitressing at a pizza restaurant. I was working at a drop in center for homeless kids in Seattle. And because I had sort of two part time jobs and I wasn't in college anymore, I finally had time to read for myself again. And I had never liked history the way it was taught. I really adamantly hated social studies, but I started reading books about politics and different presidents in the past and history. And in retrospect, I was realizing that history was made of stories, but I just knew, like, oh, my gosh, this is a thing I really love. I had no idea. And so I decided I wanted to be a middle school social studies teacher. Then I got certified, and I taught for several years. And really, I loved a lot of so much of it. And I stayed home from the classroom when my son was born. And that's sort of then we have, like, the third downtime book-prompted life-changing moment, and this time it was The Blue Jay’s Dance by Louise Erdrich. And I picked it up because my son would not sleep unless I was holding him. So I was just stuck on the couch for hours at a time, bored out of my mind. And I had read all the books about composting in the library and all the books about backyard bugs. Like, those were my interests at the time. And I was like, I need something else to read. And so I picked up The Blue Jay’s Dance, which is Louise Erdrich. It's about her and her baby. And I was like, well, it's a memoir about she has a baby. We'll see if it's good. And obviously it was good because it's Louise Erdrich. But there's just one random line in the book where she's talking about going through the woods with her baby to a writing cabin. And I thought, oh, it'd be so lovely to be a writer. It just sounds so and but then my exact next thought was, well, writing is something I know I can't do. But I was on the couch for three more hours. At some point, it was like, well, if I was going to write something, what would I write? And so it sort of then shifted into with enough time, you could come up with a little idea. It's not like I had a whole idea for a book, but it was like, maybe it could be this kind of setting. And then the next day was like, oh, could be this kind of character. And then the next day was another little detail. And I did that for two months. Then I started to actually have maybe a story merge. And then I started writing. And I thankfully read another book that was very helpful, Anne Lemott’s Bird by Bird, that said if that first draft is really, really bad, then you're doing it right. And I thought, well, I am doing this all right then. So I kept going, and eventually I got to the end of the story, and it was like, the people, I made them up, the things they did, I had made that up. And it was such a feeling of power. It was such a rush, too, because I had not thought I could do that. And so that's when I was like, okay, I have, like, seven years between when I'll be a stay at home mom while my kids are little, get seven years before I need to go back to the classroom or do whatever it is, and I Googled how long does it take to get published? And Google told me seven years. All right, let's see if we can make this happen. So it took seven years to the month, actually. So Google was absolutely accurate, but it was, like, very much I never thought of myself as a reader, really. I mean, I read, but I wasn't, like, devouring books like some other kids, and I never thought of I was a writer, but gosh, books have just shaped — and downtime—  books and the time to sort of really explore what I want to be thinking about and what I want to read have just really shaped my life.

[07:03] Dr Diane: And when you discovered Cynthia Voigt, are there other authors that you've discovered since either in the classroom or now that sort of shape your inspiration?

[07:15] Ann Braden: Well, I feel like there's some authors that I will read whatever they have because it will always help me feel like the world is a place full of good people. And so that's Jacqueline Woodson and Jason Reynolds and Padma Venkatraman and I mean, others. But it's just one of those things where I love being reminded that stories can really transport you, and sometimes that's by TV, like Netflix stories, too, of course. And so I really try to fill up my well when I'm not writing. And in between, I feel like there's so many amazing authors writing for middle grade right now. And it's just when kids asked me what I read when I was their age, I was like, I read everything. I feel like we’re in a golden age right now in terms of that middle grade writing.

[08:20] Dr Diane: You're absolutely right, because it's sort of the same thing. I feel like I read so much when I was younger, but nowhere near what's out there now.

[08:34] Ann Braden: Right. And also, I just feel like there's so much good stuff in there of kids getting to really see themselves and no matter what emotion they're dealing with, if you find the book, you can find that on the page, and that's just a really powerful thing.

[08:54] Dr Diane: Well, and that's a great segue into your own. Now you've written some really interesting heroines. There's Agnes, there's Zoe, there's Libby and Vincent and T and Jack. Where did the inspiration come from for the kids who are sort of at the forefront of your books?

[09:16] Ann Braden: It's a mix of a couple different sources I think. Zoe, the inspiration behind that book was that I had written five manuscripts before this that had all gotten rejected. I was sure no one was ever going to read anything I wrote, but I was at a toddler ninja class watching my daughter jump around, and I was talking to one of the other parents who was a guidance counselor at our local elementary school. And our town has, about 80% of the kids qualify for free and reduced lunch. There's a lot of families like Zoe's, and she was like, our kids never see themselves in books. You're a writer. You should write that book. And I was like, that's really important. But I don't think I'm the person to write that book for a variety of reasons, but I felt that book should definitely be written, but by someone else. And after a few months, though, I kept thinking about the idea, and Zoe came so fully formed, and I was like, I know her. And part of it was kids that I taught, but more so, it was just she was my own, all my insecurities from when I was younger for significantly less good reasons than she has to feel insecure. So I didn't have the same obstacles that she has to face, but we both doubted ourselves, and I was able to just channel all of that in. And so in a lot of ways, I am in every one of those characters that you mentioned. And so it's like finding sort of it's like delving into a different part of your personality or a different part of your past or a different part of your worries about the future. And then also pulling on the kids that are around, like kids that you've taught and loved. Writing, compared to teaching is interesting because you can convince that kid on the page that you love them, even when it's hard to do that in the classroom. I mean, you can do it in the classroom, but you just never know if it's going to take. I had a little bit more control over this.

[11:28] Dr Diane: So what was the inspiration for Opinions and Opossums?

[11:30] Ann Braden: Opinions and Opossums was very much just right out of my own childhood. I am Agnes. I don't think I pulled on anyone else. It's like me as a book form. If I was going to turn into paper in a nice binding, that's what I would look like. I had a lot of questions about religion when I was growing up, and I did not feel like I could ask them. And there's all these assumptions that are just made in society that you don't question. And if you question them, it's seen as bad. Or like especially in middle school, you don't want to stick out. You don't want to put up your little flag of weirdness. Even though we all have our flag of weirdness.

[12:20] Dr Diane: Absolutely.

[12:22] Ann Braden: And so I really felt very alone. And I remember one time when I was twelve having a conversation with, she wasn't a good friend, but she had been a friend since nursery school. And we were in the library because the library was close to middle school, we could just go there after school and we were in the stacks and just sort of spitballing on all the possibilities of religion and spirituality. And I remember that conversation so vividly as this awakening of like you can think about all sorts of things and you can question all sorts of things. And I feel like that was the age when I was really waking up to it. Also, that was the age when I was in confirmation class being expected to decide what I believed, which is kind of early. I feel like there was a lot in that period of time and a lot of it relates to sort of the other piece that I really wanted to explore was that so my daughter, when I started writing that book, was six. She was the age of the younger sister of the character Mo, Sadie. And she was very much like that character where she just would be fully herself. She did not care what anyone else thought. I mean, she was a little more reserved in very public situations, but generally she brought her game and screw, whatever the social norms were. And I was also conscious that by twelve, me and so many other kids, girls especially, will lose their confidence. And I was like, what is that? Why is it once we're paying attention to what society wants, that we make ourselves smaller? And I know that there's a lot of obvious things, but I was like, I think that there's subliminal under the surface stuff going on too. This is sort of me trying to figure out one angle of like, okay, so why don't we feel like we get to belong and are as good as everyone else?

[14:41] Dr Diane: And I like the fact that you worked some of that through Mo as a male character too, because that interesting. And I do think middle school boys also struggle with that sense of who I am and how do I conform to the pressures that are being put on me.

[14:56] Ann Braden: Absolutely. And I think in some ways there's so much more work superficially done around girls feeling empowered and feeling like they can be whoever they want. And that work hasn't really been done around boys to be like you can feel however you want. You get to have the whole range of emotions like you look at the clothing sections of stores and girls get every color and boys get black, gray, white, red and blue. Maybe some orange. Like a few other might get green if you're lucky. And if you think about it, that's actually the same color scheme that we have for what kind of cars we can buy too. It's like all the ways that our society says no, boys and men can only fit into this one box and go out of that and you are taking a huge risk. That just limits, it's so much harder to be a healthy boy when you have that as your surrounding water.

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[17:08] Dr Diane: And the opossums I have to ask, where did the opossums come from?

[17:29] Ann Braden: So I still have the same process for writing, often where I will just have like one tiny little idea a day for two months and I'll write it down. And I do bullet journals, so I use lots of washi tape and colored pens. And I will make one spread in my notebook that says Theme, and one spread that says Setting, and one that spread that says Plot, and one that says Characters. And I will just try to write down one thing a day in any of those four categories, whatever comes first. And for me, theme is really like, what am I angry about and what weird animal am I going to use to delve into the psyche of humanity at the middle school level? And so I had just sort of this general idea about sort of looking at some of the patriarchy in religion and the shift of confidence of girls and also setting it in a town like where I grew up, which was sort of a suburb of New York City and Connecticut where there was a lot of conformity. And so that's kind of what I had. And I was out to dinner with some librarians in Virginia doing school visits, and Laura Ivy looked at me and she said, so how about an Opossum for your next book? And I was like, roadkill —possum is like the mascot of that, like, that could be amazing. And then, of course, in the editing process, my editor is like the possum can't be dead. And so I was like, okay, the patron saint of suburbia. And there's so much metaphor that you can dig into there. Often I'll sort of start with a weird animal and then see if it actually works, if it's just my gut being too weird. But in this case, I was like, oh, there's lots of good stuff in there.

[19:16] Dr Diane: Great, and, you know, we were talking earlier. I just got back from Iceland, and I had seen the most beautiful puffin colonies. And I was thinking about that in terms of Flight of the Puffin, the metaphor with the puffins in that you've got the four separate stories that come together around one act of kindness, how it ripples out. Which came first, your work with Local Love Brigade or Flight of the Puffin?

[19:43] Ann Braden: So it's funny because Local Love Brigade came first by a few years, and someone's like this should be like a picture book or something. And I'm like, yeah, can you think of anyone? And I often think I'm keeping this part of my life separate from my books. But at some point I had the idea for I mean, Flight of the Puffin really came out of the —I had just been doing lots of school visits for The Benefits of Being an Octopus in places that should have been very different from each other based on the narrative that we are getting from politicians. I was like, all right, I see so much connection. Why is no one talking about the connection? And so that's really where the concept came from. For a while, I was like, how are they all going to get connected? I can't figure out how. And I feel like something came up about like, I don't know. I sent a postcard and I thought, oh, my gosh, I'm doing this for years. How does this not even occur to me? How did it take months? And it was one of those things where I think often things have to sort of settle into your psyche before you can figure out how to delve into them to write. I mean, some people must be good at turning it right around, but I'm a slow, simmer kind of writer.

[21:05] Dr Diane: So let’s go a little bit further into Flight of the Puffin, and then I want to back up and talk about Local Love Brigade in more detail. So with Flight of the Puffin, you're telling four separate stories, and you just alluded to you were looking at the things that bring us together versus the things that wrench us apart. When I saw you speak in Frostburg, I think you showed a map that kind of gave a sense of that connectivity. Can you talk a little bit more about the things that bring us together?

[21:31] Ann Braden: Yeah, so one of the things that I think  — there’s talking points and then there's actual truth. And I think often people sort of we go to where's the I think I want to categorize this person, or I want to categorize how I feel about this. We go very quickly to narratives that have been set in stone by us, by the media or whoever, the most influential people in our family, whatever it is. So it's like you're hooking yourself onto an already existing boat. And what that doesn't account for is when you have actual conversations, human to human, with people. And it's not about the problem on the surface where you would immediately get to talking points. It's about the deeper issues of what it means to be a human and what is it like when you feel vulnerable and what do we all want as humans and how does belonging work. And as soon as you're getting to these deep human issues, none of the other stuff really matters that much. And it's very much on the surface. And there's things like small details certainly matter in terms of how people treat one another, but how we talk about things, we can instantly be like, oh, you're using those words. That means that you are instantly in this camp over here, I'm going to make all these judgments about you. And so part of I think both that and The Benefits of Being an Octopus was really trying to pull back on the easy judgments and sort of look at well, what are we actually talking about? Who are these human beings that we are making judgments about in all these different directions? And so yeah, finding the commonality and one of the things I think the map in Flight of the Puffin that I showed was towards the, when the book came out, it was during the Pandemic and we had this coast to coast read aloud where like 4000 students all across the country in 700 different schools all read it at the same time. And there was schools that were matched up with one another, so they were connected via pen pals with other classrooms. And I just feel like especially during the pandemic, we all felt so alone and isolated and finding well, it's similar to the local love brigade, but as soon as you find a little way to come out and interact with someone else and connect, you just feel you feel like you belong. Even when you might be sending out kindness to someone else. And so I feel like finding those ways to sort of activate our own selves so that we feel part of the fabric, I felt like that was really important.

[24:30] Dr Diane: I think that makes sense. And let's talk a little bit about local love brigade. I know that you started this in response to the election in 2016, when you saw people who were feeling afraid, can you talk a little bit about it and how people might become involved with it?

[24:46] Ann Braden: Yeah, so it's one of those things where it's very simple and so very accessible and it can make a really lovely difference in both yourself and whoever you affect. And so the concept is that you just take an index card and you cover it with messages of love or support or just hearts or whatever it is, and you send it to whoever is facing hate. And we set up a Google spreadsheet to keep track of the addresses that needed love. At the beginning, we were sending them to all the synagogues that were getting bomb threats all the first. The way this started was that I heard that the Islamic Society of Vermont had gotten hate mail. And earlier that day I'd been trying to talk to people, like trying to figure out what could we possibly do about all this? Like we as regular people should be able to push back if the hate is coming from regular people, so what can we do? And so postcards came out of that conversation. So later that day when I found out the Islamic Society of Vermont, I was like, I'm going to take colored pencils and I'm going to cover this index card in hearts and I'm going to mail it to them. If they can get hate mail from a stranger, then they can get love mail from a stranger too. And so I got other people to send postcards and they ended up getting like 500 postcards covered in hearts. And there's a video of the Imam holding this huge stack of postcards. And what he says is if the person who sent that hateful message knew that this was going to be a response, I don't think they would have sent it. And so it's one of those things where it doesn't even have to be 500. It's like you're balancing out the hate that other people are sending. And so it was just like, if there's hate, we're going to push back. And the idea is like, well, you're a stranger. How do you know these people? It's like, okay, whoever is hating on them is likely someone who does not know them either. The whole message is you get to be who you are. You are loved as you are. And that's a message that I feel pretty universally applies to a whole lot of people. And so it started growing and we started a Facebook group and then that even spread out to Facebook groups in other states. Vermont is the main one. It's the one that's still kind of active, although the Oregon one does have a very diligent person who keeps posting. But it's one of those things where it has sort of died off a little bit since then, in part because I think that I don't know if it's that it's not in the news as much and so it's harder to find the incidents that need it or if there's fewer incidents, I'm not sure. But it's something where when something bad happens, it doesn't matter how long the group has been quiet, it's easy to be like, this just happened. Can we all send index cards? Just having a way to take action. Often when we feel angry, it's because we feel powerless. And so having a way that we can be part of a solution, it helps us feel better. But then it also is this reminder to the other person that you're not alone in this.

[27:51] Dr Diane: That makes sense. And I actually am going to use your idea this summer because I'm doing a couple of camps through the library and the theme for the libraries this summer is Community and Kindness. We're going to be sending postcards both with the little ones where they can do them with their parents and then with the older elementary students where they can do them more independently.

[28:12] Ann Braden: Awesome. And there's a spot on my website, under, with all the puffin stuff where there's addresses, sample addresses that you can use. It sends them to homeless shelters with kids.

[28:23] Dr Diane: That's perfect. And that's sort of my plan is to use those, but also to bring in community members so that the kids can learn a little bit more about the needs in our own community.

[28:32] Ann Braden: Oh, that's perfect. Yes, absolutely. That's great.

[28:36] Dr Diane: I think that's powerful. And I love the notion that it's something as simple as a postcard.

[28:41] Ann Braden: Yeah, and it was amazing to feel so powerless during that time and then to suddenly be in these gatherings where it was like there was kids from two and they were just drawing the design on the postcard. And I went to some nursing homes and they were so excited to write these very detailed postcards and it was just like, this is so accessible for so many people and it just brings joy into the world.

[29:15] Dr Diane: I agree. And I also know you've been involved in the creation of two hashtag campaigns, Kids Need Books and Kids Need Mentors. Can you talk a little bit about the two of those? And are they still going? And how can people be involved?

[29:31] Ann Braden: Those, I believe, have sort of fizzled out with the pandemic, unfortunately. I mean, Kids Need Books is a hashtag that still crops up for if people are giving away a stack of books. So that one, I think, can come and go, but that's worth searching just in case, because it really sort of spread out to lots of different authors giving away stacks of books. And often it's not like their own books, it's books that they have on their bookshelves and books that mean I remember having a conversation with Jarrett Lerner, who was at the very beginning of it together, because I had had these books that I. Wasn't going to be able to read for various reasons. And I was like, there's all these kids out there that don't have access to books. I just need to get it into some teachers hands. And so we were talking about how what's the point of having no space on your bookshelf when there's kids out there that have no bookshelf? And so that one sort of began just as an easy hashtag and then Kids Need Mentors really became a whole organization, thankfully not one that had to get certified as a 501c3. I've really learned my lessons about creating organizations, keep it simple and streamlined and really low entry level. And so that one I did with Jarrett and Kristen Crouch and Kristen Pecone, who are two educators, and it was about matching up authors with classrooms for a year and so that they had for an author. It's really fun to check in with kids and answer questions and maybe get feedback on your writing. And there's a lot of benefits for the author, but also for the classroom. There's all sorts of great benefits about having an author who does this for a living, giving suggestions about writing or tips or whatever it is. Sure. I think that we probably did that two or three years. I got too busy and I had to bail, and the other three kept it going for one year after I did, after I left. But I think the whole concept is sort of flattening everything so you don't feel like there's some hierarchy. It's not like authors, because their name is in print on a book, are somehow not these regular human people who make mistakes and have really bad first drafts. It's really important to have that be accessible and just something that you can imagine yourself going into and maybe to.

[32:05] Dr Diane: Show a future Ann Braden that you can write at a much earlier age.

[32:10] Ann Braden: Yes, you don't have to wait till you're 30.

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[33:25] Dr Diane: So you've been involved in so much activism over time that seems to have gone sort of hand in hand, your writing life and your activist life. What are the issues that are fueling your fire today? What are the things that you're focused on?

[33:40] Ann Braden: Well, it's funny because since writing Opinions and Opossums, I've written a manuscript and a half which are on two different issues that I care passionately about. One's climate change and one is book banning. And both cases, my editor just recently, she's like, no, these are not working. And so I'm like, okay, well, I came to terms with human extinction because I feel like life is going to continue on after climate change. So that really helped me. And the book banning one, it was so agenda heavy. I had so much to say and the story was getting lost. So all of that, it's one of those things where sometimes it's like, you can come in and the book is really just for you, it's not for anyone else to read. And so now I'm starting to working on something that's not in terms of an issue, but it is universal because I realized that one of the things that my books have in common is that they're all sort of talking about something that affects kids, but that is not talked about much. And I was like, you know what no one talks about when they're kids and what everyone is terrified of — death. And so I wanted to have a book that's not about grieving, but about just that existential crisis of like, I'm going to die at some point and how do I come to terms with this and not live in a paralyzed way?

[35:42] Dr Diane: So what's currently bringing you, joy? What are the things that fill your cup?

[35:49] Ann Braden: I just recently saw this New York Times. I get the morning newsletter, and it was talking about setting your intention for the summer. I'm realizing that this is going to come out after the summer, but my intention for this past summer was to write in the quiet of the morning, grill in the evening, and watch the birds in the middle. And so I feel like I'm trying to really shrink down. I mean, it's probably as you age, this is like natural, but really being present. And I can be so driven in like a tunnel sort of way. And I mean, that's one of the things that my character in this book is going to have to deal with because I think sometimes the way we process the fact that we're going to die is to feel like I've got to just cram it in. Now I'm working on that and really trying to find just that peace in the moment and gosh, I'm really into birds right now. My climate change book was all going to be all these bird main characters because humans had gone extinct. And it was fun thinking about that, but it was not a realistic book. I mean, it was like about human extinction for middle grade.

[37:14] Dr Diane: And you know, the birds might show up in another book.

[37:17] Ann Braden: Yes. I feel like maybe not. With whole heist plans for how I'm convinced crows will take over when we're gone. That's intriguing.

[37:29] Dr Diane: I could see that. And they might run afoul of the hawks.

[37:34] Ann Braden: Yes. I mean, there's a whole lot of anyway, it was a lot of things that were fun and also depressing to write, but yeah, doesn't mean it should become a book.

[37:47] Dr Diane: So one of the things that I know teachers and librarians and authors are grappling with, and you alluded to it just a moment ago, is the issue of book banning that we seem to be, on the one hand, if we can get past our own agendas, there's so much more connection we can make as humans. But we also seem to be reverting to that sort of knee jerk. I hate this. I hate that. I'm not going to read it, but I'm going to ask that it be banned. Are you running into that or are you seeing that within the industry and how do we go about addressing it?

[38:25] Ann Braden: So I see a lot of similarities between, so I did a lot of organizing around gun laws in Vermont, which is a very controversial issue in Vermont. And it was, when I started, you couldn't even talk about guns at the state house, in part because a few people had sort of bullied everyone else into silence. And I feel like there's a similar dynamic here where there was just I don't know what the study was. I think it might have been Pen America, but it seemed like looking at the book banning, it's really stemming from eleven people. This is not like half the country believes this and half the country believes this. It's like we're talking about it because eleven people have found a way to make their voices really loud. And one of the things that I think is important when you're teaching, right, you can't let those few loud voices control your classroom. And that's how I sort of thought about it when I was going. I felt like I had to get involved in the gun stuff because I was like, I'm not going to let someone bully other kids in my classroom. Why would we let them bully an entire state into not being able to even discuss an issue? And this is similar where it's like, you can't discuss these issues, right? We are shutting the door that there can be no discussion about what has happened in the past for people who are not white, what is currently happening for people who are not white, what is happening constantly for people who are not straight and CIS. It's like one of those things where they're trying to shut the door on discussion by bullying everyone else into silence. And so really, the dynamic has to be that it was so hard to get going in Vermont because you just didn't have the critical mass of a whole organization like the NRA. They already had this whole built organization. And in some ways, this is very similar because a lot of the and this is why my book was going to have way too much agenda. But a lot of the last several decades have been building an organization to try to push back on any moving forward on issues that affect people who are not white, men who are rich, and also just sort of creating this idea that it's like a 50 50 situation. This is not a debate because those are equal footings, like the majority of the country. That's a democracy that wants freedom of press and freedom of reading the press. You just have to find enough people who are willing to speak up about it from the other side. And so that can often be like, you find one other person and they come with you to the school board meeting. Or you find two other people and the three of you meet and discuss, how are we going to do this? And sometimes that's all the critical mass you need to get something started. So when I was doing the gun organizing at the beginning, there was but you just find one person at a time. My cat is trying to break down a door. Hold on. Sure. You just have to find, like, one person at a time. Be like, okay, I have three people in this town that they can start organizing now. And so it's hard when you have you don't want to face a bully by yourself. You just sort of think of basic bully behavior. You have to sort of find the other people that are willing to stand up and be upstanders. And it doesn't have to be complicated. You don't have to shout them down with all these talking point arguments. It's just like you just have to say that we believe in being able to read books.

[42:23] Dr Diane: And that sounds so much like Zoe finding her voice in Octopus or Agnes being able to ask the questions in Opions and finding the courage to be able to speak up and realize that once you've said it, it wasn't as scary as you thought it was going to be.

[42:41] Ann Braden: Right. And you don't forget how strong you can be. You never go back to that previous self. And for me, that has been very true. We started this talking about how I write sensitively, and I've always been very sensitive and I've always was sensitive to criticism. And when I was doing all that gun organizing, I started getting bullied all the time by people just swearing at me, saying every possible mean thing they could think of. And because I had a few people close by, like my family was super supportive, I was able to come through that and really be stronger. And I'm not going back to the person I was before. Except I will keep all my sensitivity for my page.

[43:27] Dr Diane: No, that makes total sense. But you've added the sensitivity with the strength that you built from that experience.

[43:33] Ann Braden: Yeah, right. We want to have a combination. Right. We want to be able to feel feelings and we want to do something about it.

[43:41] Dr Diane: Exactly. I love that. So what's next for you?

[43:47] Ann Braden: Well, just before we recorded this, I have basically the first 20 pages of a new story to send to my editor, see what she thinks. And I feel like there's so much to write. The pandemic, I feel like it affected. I mean, I feel like for so much of my books, I'm looking for how are kids heroes in ways that they don't recognize themselves as heroes? And I feel like the pandemic was like that everywhere. So many kids dealing with stuff that they didn't know there was no other choice. And how does that sort of get into our networking of our brain synapses? And so I feel like there's a lot of books I have to write.

[44:46] Dr Diane: That sounds terrific. And I know I'm going to include your contact information in the show notes. If you're an educator, there are some amazing resources on the web page to go with the books and also links to local Love Brigade and other ways that you can get involved. Ann Braden, thank you so much for being on the Adventures and Learning Show today. It has been a delight to have you.

[45:10] Ann Braden: Oh, thank you so much. It's been so wonderful to talk to you.

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