ANNA ORENSTEIN-CARDONA: THE TREE OF HOPE
by Mariana Ríos Ramírez
MR: It’s my pleasure to welcome Anna Orenstein-Cardona to our Las Musas Blog to celebrate the book birthday of The Tree of Hope, a picture book written by Anna and illustrated by Juan Manuel Moreno. Congratulations!
ANNA ORENSTEIN-CARDONA: First a little bit about the book:
The jagüey blanco, also known as a banyan tree, of the San Juan Gate is one of the most beloved trees in the city of Old San Juan, located on the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. Due to its sheer size, magnificence, and location.
For over a century, it stood proudly next to the tall red gateway known as the San Juan Gate, or the Puerta de San Juan.
On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria made its devastating landfall in Puerto Rico. It was the worst natural disaster on record to hit the island, causing widespread flooding and a complete collapse of the island’s electrical grid and water systems. People were sadly left without running water and in complete darkness for months. It also destroyed much of the island’s nature, including the magnificent jagüey blanco, which was uprooted and fell into the sea.
THE TREE OF HOPE is inspired by the tree’s miraculous rescue and regrowth; a reminder of the power of community and the importance of never giving up.
MR: Anna, I’m so excited to talk to you about your debut picture book. It must be a dream come true! To get this conversation started, can you share about you and your journey as a children’s book writer?
ANNA ORENSTEIN-CARDONA: Since childhood, I loved reading books. Some of my happiest moments were spent at public libraries with my parents.
As they did research for their cases (both were lawyers, as well as law professors at different points in time), I would pull out a pile of books and read them from cover to cover.
Not only did I enjoy getting lost in different worlds, but I loved making them up as well! I remember being Glitter Girl, the powerful superhero that combatted evil with glitter, as well as numerous other characters from my imagination.
It was my wonderful grandfather, Barnet, who would always remind me to write down my stories. You see, he believed in my writing, before I even did.
Although writing was a huge passion, I also had other interests, such as science and math (I call myself a multi-passionate learner). It was that love of science and math that took me to study Brain & Cognitive Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Once there, I realized that it was okay to try out different things. That’s why, after graduation, I headed over to New York to work in the world of finance (numbers were a big part of it too).
Fast forward a few years later, I found myself working in London. As I rode the tube home from work one evening, I saw an advertisement in the Evening Standard. It was for a creative writing course by Faber Academy.
It said, “Bad writing can always be improved, but a blank page will always be a blank page.” There was something about those words that shook me to the core.
That’s what prompted me in 2012 to sign up to their six-month writing course, Writing a Novel. Luckily, it took place in the evenings and Saturdays, so I was able to balance it with work.
After that course finalized, I signed up for another one, Writing for Children, with award-winning British children’s author Anthony McGowan. It opened a whole new world of possibility, and I felt my calling for writing children’s books. After all, if we can inspire children with our stories, we can inspire the future generations of adults. How beautiful!
So, I dived in and learned as much about the industry as possible. I read incessantly, wrote in the evenings and on the weekends, attended SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) conferences in the UK and USA, and absorbed everything I could about the children’s publishing world.
MR: Anna that is so inspiring! I love that you were able to pursue your writing dream even if you went down different paths first. I’m glad that you hold on to it and made it happen when the time was right. Can you tell us about your querying experience?
ANNA ORENSTEIN-CARDONA: I tried querying a few agents with some other manuscripts but didn’t have success.
Then in 2020, my world fell apart with the loss of my beloved mother. The period after her passing was a time of deep mourning and reflection. A time of renewed appreciation. My soul was telling me that it was time to give it another go.
That’s why in the fall of that year, when I heard about #LatinxPitch – a kidlit pitching event for creators of children’s literature who belong to the Latinx Community – I penciled in the date and went off to prepare my Twitter pitches. As they say, the rest is history.
My picture book pitch for The Tree Of Hope received a few likes from various editors and agents, but it was the fabulous Naomi Krueger (acquisitions editor at Beaming Books) who really stood out. She gave me some great feedback and editorial suggestions. We signed the publishing deal in the summer of 2021!
MR: I’m so sorry about your mom, Anna. I admire that you were able to overcome that difficult experience being able to fuel your writing purpose, which ultimately lead to your success on landing a book deal. On a side note, I want to share that LatinxPitch is also part of my journey, since it was also the event that opened the door for me to meet my editor for Santiago’s Dinosaurios, so I understand how special that moment was for you. Can you tell us what happened afterwards?
ANNA ORENSTEIN-CARDONA: Although, I have been writing for a long time, the truth is that I feel I am just beginning my journey as an Author. When you finally get a publishing deal, it all becomes suddenly so very real and frankly even a bit scary! It’s like, “Oh, I’m really a writer!” and all sorts of feelings come up.
Creating a book is beautiful, but then you start to wonder if people will support your work and if it will have the impact, you really desire. So, I’m taking it day by day, learning and growing, and hoping that my stories will bring joy!
Regarding agents, I don’t have one yet, as I signed a deal directly with my publisher. However, it’s most definitely something that I hope to accomplish in the next year, as I’d love to have someone to help champion my work. *P.S. If any agent is reading this, please feel free to say HOLA. Hehehe…
Finally, no author can do this journey alone for it can be long and lonely. Therefore, I want to thank my family and friends that have supported me thus far. They believed in my dream, provided feedback, and lots of encouragement!
I also want to thank 4 special organizations that support creatives in a way that is very special. Firstly, a mega shoutout to LatinxPitch. If it weren’t for you guys, I wouldn’t be here. GRACIAS.
Las Musas, thank you for creating such a wonderful container of support for Latinx creators. I am blessed to be part of your community.
And a big thanks to SCBWI (Society of Children Book Writers & Illustrators) and SOA (Society of Authors). Not only have I been able to meet the most incredible group of friends through these organizations, but I have learned so much about craft. Thank you for championing writers & illustrators!
MR: I agree, the journey to publication is not easy; so it’s a blessing to have special people, groups and organizations cheering and providing support along the away. Now, let’s talk about your debut, The Tree of Hope. I had the chance of reading an advance reader copy of your book, and I loved it. It’s a very inspiring, heartwarming, and touching story. I especially liked that it’s based on true events and how it’s about overcoming obstacles, moving forward, and never giving up. I believe those are great lessons for children to read about nowadays. In your author’s note you mention that as a girl you used to spend time with this tree. Can you talk about what inspired you to write this story?
ANNA ORENSTEIN-CARDONA: As a child, one of my greatest joys was visiting Old San Juan and sitting under the jagüey blanco with a piragua (snow cone) in hand. When I learned about the tree’s fall after Hurricane Maria, I felt like I had lost a childhood friend.
The history of its recovery is nothing short of a miracle and I knew that this beautiful and inspiring story had to be shared with the world. I wrote the book quite quickly in the Fall of 2017. It was a love letter to my country, but I didn’t even think of querying it because it was just too much of an emotional time. So, it stayed in a drawer for some time. Eventually, I edited it a few times and had wonderful mentorship. A big shout-out of gratitude to fellow friend & superb author, Chitra Soundar, who provided phenomenal feedback on the book. I even changed the main protagonist from the tree to a little girl, and then back to the tree (upon Naomi’s suggestion which I’m so happy about).
MR: The story of the tree’s recovery is indeed a miracle. I was blown away by how the community came together to rescue their beloved tree. Such a powerful story! I’m glad that it’s doing great and back where it belongs. Anna, can you tell us how you came up with the title of the book?
Originally, I had titled the book The Caribbean Tree, but ended up with The Tree Of Hope as it truly represented the key takeaway of the book, which is no matter what obstacles we face in life, we must always have HOPE.
MR: I love that! The final title is really fitting to the story. It was a good decision to change it since hope truly represents the main theme of the book. Do you have a favorite scene?
My favorite scene is when the little girl is touching the roots of the Jagüey Blanco, as it drifted between worlds. I think it has so much power in it. To me, it not only reminds me of the dark time my country went through after Hurricane Maria (represented by the fall of the tree), but it also represents the time I spent by my mother’s bedside, days before her passing, as she too drifted between worlds.
Hold on, reaching for the tissues…
See that’s the beauty of books. We can find so much symbolism and emotions in them!
MR: You are right, as writers we really do put a lot of our hearts and emotions into our stories. I believe that’s what make them special, unique and what allow readers to connect with them. How was it like to work with your editor?
I am SO grateful to my editor, Naomi Krueger, for allowing me the opportunity to R&R (Revise and Resubmit) after she provided such brilliant and insightful comments to my MS submission. Also, for championing this story from the beginning!
I enjoyed every bit of working with her on ensuring that my manuscript could be the best possible. I learned so much through the process, especially how to tell a story with fewer words. This is particularly important with picture books! It was truly a beautiful collaboration.
MR: Anna, believe it or not I also experienced a Revise and Resubmit for my debut book. Another coincidence! This shows how important it is for authors to go for it when they get the chance and if they consider the suggestions resonate with their own vision for the book. Regarding the beautiful illustrations, can you share how were you involved in the process?
Since The Tree Of Hope is inspired by a true story, I was able to send my editor (who then sent to the illustrator) some images of the real-life tree, it’s fall, and rescue. I also sent videos of the regrowth that the tree has gone through since it’s fall. However, I didn’t see any of the illustrations until the first roughs were sent through and they blew me away. They were so spot on, it was magical!
I was able to provide some feedback, including adding a few elements like cats, which I adore and in real-life roam the Old City, where the Banyan Tree is based, as well as butterflies in honor of my mother. Juan Manuel also added a little hidden message in one of the illustrations that is a nod to a Puerto Rican sports legend that I always admired. ¡Gracias Juan Manuel!
MR: The process with the illustrations for my book was very similar, I wasn’t able to contact the illustrator directly, but I came to understand why this happens. The purpose is to give the artists the freedom they need to create so they can bring their own layers to the story. I think that makes our books even more special and magical. So, how was it for you when you got to see the final illustrations of the book?
Oh my goodness, I cried like a baby! Haha. Seriously. Juan Manuel Moreno is SUCH a talented illustrator. It was as if he had seen the tree and surroundings in person. All the illustrations are AMAZING, but my favorite is the scene I mentioned previously regarding the little girl touching the roots of the fallen tree. The colors are so evocative of the feelings that arise when reading that scene, it’s pure poetry and art.
MR: How lucky you felt that way. Regarding marketing and publicity, can you talk about what you’ve done since you finished working on the edits of the book and how you’re getting ready for the release date?
Great question! Well, it’s been a super busy time as an author also needs to be an entrepreneur. This requires setting up some tech, like a website and social media accounts. I’ve also been working on building an email list, so that I can email people about my journey, the book, events, reviews, etc.
Finally, I’ve also been busy working on new manuscripts, attending writing events and retreats, and supporting my fellow author friends on their journeys.
MR: You’re so right about authors needing to be entrepreneurs. Promoting our books is a job that never ends. What do you hope children will be able to take away from your book?
The key take away is a reminder that we and nature are so very much related. We both face challenges and obstacles. However, if we move forward with determination and hope, everything is possible, even in the face of adversity!
MR: That’s such a meaningful message! I’m sure children and parents will find it very heartwarming and inspiring. Can you share what comes next for Anna Orenstein-Cardona?
I am working on a few exciting projects, including a picture book that deals with the topic of grief in an uplifting manner and writing a proposal for a children’s book that teaches about money in a fun way. As a financial educator, I believe that we must teach children about money early on. Finally, I hope to query my Middle Grade manuscript which is about a secret society of superhero felines!
MR: That’s all very exciting! I think books about grief are really needed as many kids go through hard times, and by reading books they can relate to, they can find a source of comfort. Also, how special that you’ll get to share your experience in finance with children. I can’t wait to know more! I wish you the best with these projects and with your Middle Grade, it sounds amazing, and I can tell you really love cats. Any final comment or suggestion you’d like to share with fellow writers looking to be published?
Yes! The journey is long and can be extremely frustrating, but it’s totally worth it. Don’t give up.
Write because the thought of not writing is too painful to endure. Read voraciously, then read some more.
Work on your craft and surround yourself by like-minded writers that believe in you. Listen to feedback and don’t take critiques personally. It is by challenging ourselves that we grow. Seek help from organizations that support writers, such as the ones I previously mentioned. And as my beloved mother always said, “echa pa’ lante”, which means GO FOR IT!
MR: Anna, thanks for sharing your journey to publication. I really enjoyed getting to know more about you, your book and coming projects. I wish you all the best!
Purchase TREE OF HOPE Today!
Anna Orenstein-Cardona was born and raised in Puerto Rico. She received her Bachelor of Science degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and is an alum of Faber Academy (Writing a Novel and Writing for Children). She is active in the Society of Children Book Writer’s and Illustrators (SCBWI).
Anna is an NFEC-certified financial educator (CFEI) and coach with over 22 years of experience working in global financial markets. In 2020, she founded Wear Your Money Crown® to help close the gap in financial literacy.
Her debut picture book, The Tree Of Hope, is out on the 23rd of August 2022 with Beaming Books.
Currently, Anna is working on developing various projects, including more children books. She lives in London with her two very special furbabies and her Southern Gentleman husband, although spends as much time as she can in Puerto Rico. Where she regularly gets involved in rescuing abandoned animals and supporting local charities.
You can follow her on IG @wearyourmoneycrown, Twitter @BoricuaAnna, or learn more at http://www.annaorensteincardona.com/
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