Adjunct Professor Anna Staniszewski ’06MAMFA on Fairy Tales and Writing Magic
What drew you to Simmons?
Years ago, I was working at the newly opened Eric Carle Museum, where I was surrounded by people who lived and breathed children’s books. Their enthusiasm was contagious, and it got me thinking about the books that had meant the most to me in my life: so many of them were books that I’d read when I was young. Right around that time, I heard about the Simmons Children’s Literature program. Until that point, I’d been trying to write stories for adults, but that’s when I started to suspect that I should be writing children’s books instead, and Simmons sounded like the exact right next step for me.
Tell us about your books.
My first novel, My Very UnFairy Tale Life, came out from Sourcebooks almost exactly ten years ago. It was a funny adventure that drew on my life-long love of fairy tales. Since then, I’ve published over 20 books for young readers, including picture books, chapter books, and novels. I think what they all have in common is that they’re either funny, magical, or both. Essentially, I write the kinds of books that I would have loved to read when I was a child!
What inspired you to write The Wonder of Wildflowers?
After my first novel came out, people would sometimes ask me why I didn’t write about my experiences of being a Polish immigrant. For a long time, I just wasn’t sure that I had anything interesting to say on the topic when there were already so many amazing books out there about the immigrant experience. But one day, I remember thinking, “Well, if it had magic in it—maybe I’d want to write that story.” That spark of an idea eventually developed into The Wonder of Wildflowers, a story about a girl whose family has immigrated to the only country in the world with magic.
What was the writing process for Wildflowers?
Usually, I’m a pretty linear writer: I start with the first chapter, and write all the way to the end. But The Wonder of Wildflowers was a very different experience. The story came to me in snippets, so that sometimes I’d have to pull over while I was driving and jot down a scene that had just popped into my head. It almost felt like I was recalling memories, which I suppose makes sense, since many of the scenes were inspired by my own experiences. Eventually, I had a collection of random vignettes, and I had to figure out how to arrange them into a story. It was a challenging but ultimately satisfying puzzle.
How did Simmons assist in your success as a published author?
After I graduated from the dual MA/MFA program at Simmons, I left with a solid understanding of the past and present of children’s literature and the overall publishing process. That knowledge was a great foundation as I set out to get my first book published. But perhaps even more important than the knowledge I gained were the friendships and personal connections I made at Simmons. I don’t know how far I would have gotten in my writing career if I hadn’t had that support system along the way.
Any lessons learned from your teaching experience at Simmons?
Teaching courses on writing and children’s literature at Simmons has forced me to keep up-to-date on current books and trends, and to keep an eye out for new resources and writing techniques. Learning about new techniques motivates me to keep trying new approaches in my own writing, while revisiting tried-and-true methods with my students. I have no doubt that teaching has made me a more skilled and focused writer
Advice to students in the children's lit program?
First, continue to read widely! As a student in the program, I was forced to read far out of my comfort zone, and I try to continue that practice to this day. Second, find a community of writers to help you through your journey, whether that’s a writing group, an accountability partner, or simply a sympathetic friend. Writing can be a lonely endeavor that includes a lot of ups and downs, but a supportive community can make the process feel a lot less bumpy.
About Anna Staniszewski ’06MAMFA
Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Staniszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. She was a Writer-in-Residence at the Boston Public Library and a winner of the Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award. Currently, Anna lives south of Boston with her family and teaches courses on writing and children’s literature at Simmons University. She is the author of over twenty books for young readers, including the novels The Wonder of Wildflowers and Clique Here; the picture books Dogosaurus Rex and Beast in Show; and the Once Upon a Fairy Tale chapter book series. You can visit her at annastan.com.