Laurel Snyder is the author of Swan, the Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova
What inspired you to write Swan?
It’s a funny story. On a visit home to my mom’s, I found an old book in the basement, about Anna Pavlova. In it were notes I’d scribbled about how much I loved her, when I was about ten years old. Staring at my own messy handwriting, I was sort of overwhelmed by memories of my childhood obsession, and the story followed from there. In a sense, feel like I time traveled, and collaborated with my ten-year-old self!
How close do you work with the illustrator? How does the process work?
Not very closely, to be honest. She works from my text, and I respond to her artwork, make suggestions, but we never really interact in person. I think if we did it would take about a decade to finish a book. That said, it’s an amazing experience to see my thoughts drawn on the page. It’s amazing how that can happen– how an illustrator can peer into an author’s brain. I cried when I saw the early sketches.
What was the biggest challenge in writing this book?
Trusting myself to write the real story. Pavlova’s life was challenging, as well as inspiring. I wanted this to be a beautiful ballerina book, but I wanted it to be more than that. I wanted it to feel true. I didn’t want to leave out the hard parts.
What do you want a young reader to take away after reading Swan?
Oh, good question! I think the main thing is that it’s okay for kids to take themselves seriously. Sometimes we adults treat childhood feelings and passions as thought they’re “cute” or “funny,” when what a kid is feeling is actually very intense. Anna is a great example of a kid choosing a path, and making sacrifices for her choice. Living a life with great meaning, from a young age. The world is full of cute funny books for kids. With this book, I wanted to value their other experiences.
Were you a dancer or a writer first?
Aren’t we all dancers first? The power of movement comes long before the power of language. Watching babies respond to music is amazing. I can recall spinning in circles when I was about five, feeling my arms float. I’m a better writer than dancer, but I danced first, for sure!
What do you love best about writing for children?
Writers are explorers, and in a sense, we get to live infinite lives. Really, this book is a perfect example of that! As a kid, I wanted to grow up to be a professional ballerina and unicorn trainer. I failed miserably at both endeavors, but as a writer, I can explore ballet, participate in it. I will never be Anna Pavlova, but in writing about her, I get to pretend for a little while. It’s a wonderful thing!
I guess that means I should write a unicorn-training book next, huh?
Read more about Swan: The Life and Times of Anna Pavlova, available now.