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Interview with Lanie 2010 American Girl Author, Jane Kurtz

April 21, 2010

I’m thrilled to welcome Jane Kurtz, the author of the 2010 American Girl of the Year book, Lanie.  She shares her journey from a childhood in East Africa, writing Lanie for American Girl and why she’ll be in Colorado on May 1. Thanks, Jane for talking with me today!

Colorado Parent: How did you get involved with American Girl and why?

Jane: An editor from American Girl contacted me when they were experimenting with a line called “Girls of Many Lands.” They had an idea that with so many fans loving to read about American history, maybe they could try books that would show girls’ lives in history around the world. They would gear it for the girls who’d read the American Girl books for younger readers and create dolls of collectible size, still with that wonderful historical detail American Girl does so well. I wrote a book called Saba: Under the Hyena’s Foot for the “Girls of Many Lands,” and loved the research I did, the process of working with the editor, the doll from Ethiopia.  So when the same editor got in touch and asked if I wanted to write the books for the doll of the year, I immediately said yes.

Colorado Parent: Did you get to choose what you wrote about Lanie or did American Girl?

Jane: I flew to Madison, Wisconsin, and met with the American Girl team before I began.  hey knew they wanted the character to care about the earth—perhaps she could invent something that would help save the earth?  I, however, seem to have dozed through science classes when I was Lanie’s age and wasn’t sure I would be good at an inventor character. I showed them pictures from my outside life in Ethiopia and pointed out my wanting to save plants and animals comes from my connections with and love of plants and animals. So I proposed an outside girl—and dug in to work with my editor on the story itself.

Colorado Parent: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Jane: My mom was a passionate book lover who read out loud to us and gave us books. My dad was a storyteller who read out loud to us and gave us books. Thus, I always loved to read and tell stories—and always saw myself as a writer, even when I was a girl. I didn’t get dreams of publishing books until my own children were young in Trinidad, Colorado, and I was reading aloud to them (partly because I never met any authors when I was young).

Colorado Parent: How did you start writing?

Jane: My first piece of saved writing is a letter from me in Ethiopia to my grandma in the U.S.  ’m convinced one of the strongest reasons we write is to share what we know about and care about.


Colorado Parent:
What do you tell children who want to become writers, too?

Jane: When I ask children what it takes to be a good writer, they most often tell me it takes a good imagination. I like to show them specific examples from my books about how good ideas and details come from memories, observation, and research.   challenge them to think about ways they can draw on memories, observation, and research. In my blog, I’ve been trying to show how all three of those things went into the Lanie books, for example, Lanie’s observations of her back yard, her classmates, and Monarch caterpillars and ladybugs at the community garden.  All are a good models for children writing.
Colorado Parent: What is Ethiopia Reads and why is it important to you?

Jane: I learned to read and learned to love reading in Ethiopia, where most of my friends—who were girls—had no books. It has been one of the delights of my life to volunteer for the nonprofit Ethiopia Reads based in Denver, which has planted 43 libraries in places where most children had never even held a book before.  ow I see boys and girls reading, when I visit Ethiopia, which makes my heart go pitter-pat because I know reading makes our hearts and brains strong and brave and hopeful (and gives us the skills we need to put that hope into action). Also, Ethiopia Reads gave me a grandbaby. My son was volunteering in one of the libraries and fell in love with a young Ethiopian woman working there.  hey have a five-year-old daughter and two-year-old son and are going to school at KU, which is why I’m living in Lawrence.

Colorado Parent: Anything else to tell your fans in Colorado?

Jane: Like every nonprofit these days, Ethiopia Reads needs to find new resources to be able to survive.  I’m going to be talking about and showing pictures of exactly how I came to write the Lanie books in both Denver and Boulder May 1 as a fundraiser for Ethiopia Reads. My dearest hope is that fans of American Girl will help girls in Ethiopia get books, too.

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