Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Wild & Wonderful Wednesday: Anna was Here by Jane Kurtz


Ten-year-old Anna Nickel is moving from Colorado to Kansas, and she is not happy about leaving her friends behind! This is a moving, often humorous coming-of-age story about family, faith, God's love, and the meaning of home, perfect for fans of Katherine Paterson and The Penderwicks.

Ten-year-old Anna Nickel's worst nightmare has come true. Her father has decided to move the family back to Oakwood, Kansas—where he grew up—in order to become the minister of the church there. New friends, new school, a new community, and a family of strangers await, and what's even worse, it's all smack-dab in the middle of Tornado Alley. Anna has always prided herself on being prepared (she keeps a notebook on how to cope with disasters, from hurricanes to shark bites), but she'll be tested in Oakwood! This beautifully written novel introduces a family who takes God's teachings to heart while finding many occasions to laugh along the way, and an irrepressible and wholesome ten-year-old who, with a little help from Midnight H. (her cat), takes control of her destiny.


Jane Kurtz was born in Portland, Oregon, but when she was two years old, her parents moved to Ethiopia. Jane grew up in Maji, a small town in the southwest corner of the country.
Since there were no televisions, radios, or movies, her memories are of climbing mountains, wading in rivers by the waterfalls, listening to stories, and making up her own stories, which she and her sisters acted out for days at a time.

By the time Jane came back to the United States for college, she felt there was no way to talk about her childhood home to Americans. It took nearly twenty years to finally find a way - through words and stories. Now she often speaks in schools and at conferences, talking about the writing and revision process and how she uses memories, observation, and research to create her books.

Jane has published more than 30 books, fiction, nonfiction, picture books, novels for young readers, and ready-to-reads. Some are based on her childhood in Ethiopia. Some draw on her own children, such as ANNA WAS HERE, a novel for young readers that asks life's big questions about pain and disaster--and offers a few puny answers.

Since her childhood in Ethiopia, Jane has lived in Illinois, Colorado, North Dakota, Kansas and--now--back in Portland, Oregon.


What's the 'story behind the story?'

When I was two years old, my parents decided to move from Portland, Oregon to Ethiopia to work for the Presbyterian Church. That was the first major move of my life—and it included some long months in the U.S. stocking up on things for the next five years. From what my mom says, buying shoes for three little girls was one of the hardest jobs and buying children’s books (using an article she read about 100 Best Books for Children) was one of the most fun jobs.  We took a ship from New York City to England and then a train and then an international flight to Egypt and on to Ethiopia.

“What was it like traveling with three little girls?” I asked my mom.

She admitted that she was exhausted, and my dad pulled out every nursery rhyme and story he could possibly remember.  Then she added, “And you all behaved. You knew you didn’t have any choice.”

I traveled back to the U.S. when I was seven—to live for a year in Boise, Idaho—and then back to Ethiopia where, a year later, I moved from a remote area of Ethiopia to the capital city of Addis Ababa to attend boarding school.  So by the time I was Anna’s age, I had moved a lot.

Some of Anna’s story comes from the time when I was an adult, though. I was a preacher’s kid and so were my kids. When we moved from Colorado to North Dakota (with a two-week stop in Kansas), our cat hid out under the seat the whole way. (We really did have a cat we named Midnight Halloween Cat, and she did have a traumatic adventure when my oldest son was about Anna’s age.)  We all went through a natural disaster in North Dakota.  Both my children and I really did feel some of the pressures Anna feels about having a preacher dad—and about living in small towns in the U.S. where the roots go deep and sometimes feel very hard to understand. 

What's something you love/hate about where you live? Where is the ideal place to live do you think?

Kids often ask me, “Do you like Ethiopia or America better?”  I tell them that the book My Grandfather’s Journey perfectly captures how I feel, which is that I’m at least a little bit homesick no matter where I live. But a few years ago, I moved back to Portland. I now live in the city where I was born, which feels amazing to me. It will never be ideal—because a part of me will always miss the beautiful country of my childhood—but when I invented a character for an American Girl Doll of the Year, I learned a lot about how native plants support native insects, which are eaten by native birds…and now, just like my character, I’m spending time digging in the dirt and saving a little spot of the earth. My own back yard.

What are some safety tips that Anna might want to share with us?

Anna would want you to know everything including what to do if you meet a bear and how to get out if you are trapped in an Egyptian pyramid. She’d also want you to learn what she learns in the book: no one can be prepared for everything. Gratitude can’t keep disasters away, but it can be a great way to live in joy and hope, not in fear. And—as my dad showed me when I was two—a good story can make almost any hard time in our life feel a little bit better.


Anna likes her life the way it is, thank you very much! So she is not at all happy to find out that her family is moving from their home in Colorado to Oakwood, Kansas, especially when she finds out her new room is PINK. While the move is supposed to be temporary, no one seems to know just how long they will be there. In addition to all that, Anna is related to much of the town and her father is a preacher. That's a lot of pressure for one kid to handle.  Can she find a way to be happy where she's at even though she can't be completely prepared for everything that might come her way? A fun look at life as a preacher's kid and the challenges and joys it can bring. Recommended.

Thanks again to Jane Kurtz for appearing.  For other stops on the Anna Was Here blog tour please check


  1. oh my wonderful does this book sound? added it to my to read list for this weekend, oh yes I have. Anna sounds like my kind of kid and one I will look forward to telling my students about!

  2. forgot to add that I am glad to see you signed up for some read-a-thoning this weekend!


Blog Design by Imagination Designs all images from the Story Time kit by Kristin Aagard