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What do readers say…
“I like Anna because she likes adventures.” – Darian
“Me and my class are reading Anna Casey’s Place in the World. It is a very good story. I hope that you write more books so we can read them.” – Alonzo
What’s the Story? Anna needs a place to stay. Orphaned at two, she’s been passed from relative to relative. At age twelve, she is fresh out of relatives and riding in the back of a social worker’s car headed for her first foster home. In the car with her is Eb, a boy she’s just met. Grouchy Eb makes no effort to get along with their new foster mother, Anita Dupree. All he wants is to go back to his irresponsible mother, Lisa. But Anna hopes that if she is helpful and cheerful; if she does everything right; she will get to stay with Miss Dupree forever.
Eb forms an unlikely friendship with Sam Miller, a homeless Vietnam veteran who lives in the woods. Although Anna tries to be a good daughter to foster mother, Anita Dupree, It is Miss Johnette who becomes her real friend. Traveling with Anna is her faithful Explorer’s Notebook. In it is a map of each of the places she has lived. As Eb and Anna map their new neighborhood, an area familiar to readers of “Crossing Jordan,” they meet Cass, Jemmie, Ben and the others from the earlier book, as well as Miss Johnette, a biology teacher who lives in the neighborhood. Miss Johnette enlarges what the kids think of as “home” to include the nearby woods, the weeds that grow out of cracks in the sidewalks–the environment of planet earth.
Finding out that the woods she has been visiting with Miss Johnette is to be bull-dozed, Anna organizes the neighborhood kids. Together they dig up and move saplings so that something will be saved.
Although she faces an uncertain future — her placement at Miss Dupree’s is about to end — Anna chooses to do something that will make a difference. Anna’s optimism pays off. In the end someone comes to her rescue and helps her find her place in the world.
Where did the story idea come from? Sometimes story ideas come from big events. Sometimes they come from small ones. “Anna” began very small. One day I was walking around my neighborhood. It was winter, which isn’t that cold here in Tallahassee. Still, it’s too cold for what I encountered on my walk. In the middle of the street was a young guy in shorts, T-shirt, and bare feet who stood first on one foot, then the other, scraping his bare feet on the road. When I asked what he was doing he said, “I’m toughening my feet up for summer.”
I realized that if you look at the world the right way, you don’t have to go to exotic places to see interesting things. Sometimes all you have to do is open your front door and take a walk. I decided to write a book about a girl who looked at the ordinary world that way, a girl who expects the strange and wonderful all the time. That’s Anna, the explorer.
What’s real? Is there really an Anna or an Eb? Well… not exactly. Sometimes writers create characters and situations out of many small pieces of real life. There are plenty of kids in my neighborhood who don’t live with their parents. They live instead with grandparents, aunts, uncles; an arrangement social workers call “kinship care.” Like Anna and Eb, they get passed around a lot. I tried to capture the feeling of not really belonging anywhere.
When you see Miss Johnette picking up trash, you are seeing something I witness every day. My neighbor, Miss Holly, spends a couple of hours every afternoon picking up litter. Thanks to her, we have a very clean neighborhood. Miss Holly likes being part of my story. If you see her on the street, she will be happy to autograph your book.
I didn’t have to look far to create Miss Johnette’s “bone museum.” You might say that Miss J and I have the same decorator. Like her, I have plenty of bones in my house, not to mention nests and fossils. When writing the descriptions of her specimens, I just walked around my house describing my own collection. I don’t have a skeleton like Edgar, but maybe someday…
The Race-A-Rama used to be real. I say “used to” because the neighborhood boys who built it have since moved on to other things, but it was the main attraction while it lasted. One summer I noticed that the boys in the neighborhood were disappearing. I’d see them first thing in the morning, pedaling down the road with a shovel over one shoulder and a jug of water swinging from their handlebars. One after another, they’d cut through the tree line at the edge of the neighborhood and disappear. I wouldn’t see them again until the sun was going down when they’d come pedaling slowly back with their hair sweated to their faces. When I investigated, I found a bike race track so huge and elaborate it must have been visible from the Hubble Space Telescope! They abandoned it long ago, but you can still see a few traces, shallow holes that haven’t been washed away by the rain.
The woods that Anna and her friends tried to save used to be real, too. As far as I know, all that’s left of the 100 acre woods that grew near my house is a cedar tree and two beautyberry bushes in my back yard. My husband and I dug them up. That didn’t seem like enough, so I put the story of the woods in “Anna” hoping that kids might be inspired, like Anna, to do what they can for the wild places in their own neighborhoods.