Interview with Winnie Anderson, Author of Phoebe’s Heron

PHOEBE’S HERON (Crispin Books, 2018) is the story of 12-year-old Phoebe Greer. In 1900, Phoebe, her family, and Nurse Daisy arrive at their new cliff-top cabin in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies, with hopes that the fresh air will heal Phoebe’s mother’s tuberculosis. Young Phoebe soon meets Jed, a local plume hunter (a market hunter of birds for their feathers). Book is of special interest to Audubon Society members, birders, and all interested in the early conservation movement at the beginning of the 1900s.


Great Lakes Literary: What led you to this story and inspired you to write Phoebe’s Heron?

Winnie: Two things led me to write this story. The first is a path along a creek very close to my home in Colorado, which I walk often. More than once, I’ve seen a blue heron fly over the creek: It is a beautiful sight. I remember, too, years ago, joining a small group of people gathered on the trail, whose heads were upturned. They were looking up at blue heron’s nest, high up in the trees.

Phoebe's Heron, by Winnie Anderson

Secondly, I was inspired by Sarah One Jewett’s classic short story, “A White Heron,” published in 1886. She was an influential member in the Audubon Society, whose mission in those early days was to save birds that were being hunted to the point of extinction. In an age when women had little political voice, Audubon groups met in the form of women’s teas. They gained enough momentum to influence change about how people thought about killing birds for millinery purpose to legislation for their protection. I hoped to bring the beginnings of that message to the Colorado foothills.Twelve-year-old Phoebe Greer’s story is a fictional version of one path to activism and engagement, a timely message for any age.

Great Lakes Literary: In a paragraph or two, tell us what the book is about.

Winnie: Phoebe’s Heron is the story of 12-year-old Phoebe Greer, who, in 1900 Colorado, moves to the mountains with her family in the hope that the fresh air will heal her mother’s tuberculosis. She wants her mother to get well, but she misses her life in Denver and her best friend there, Lisbeth, whose parents own the city’s finest millinery store and where the girls have spent hours parading in front of the looking-glass wearing fancy feathered hats on their heads.

Phoebe meets a local boy, Jed, who is a plume hunter, a commercial hunter of birds for their feathers. While he shows her the delights of the outside world, he is also in need of finding a great blue heron, whose feathers are in such demand for women’s hats. On her own one day, Phoebe sees one of those majestic birds. When she chooses not to tell Jed, her best friend, that she has seen what he is so desperately seeking, she is thrust into a difficult situation.

Great Lakes Literary: If you wanted your readers to take away one message or thought or idea from Phoebe’s Heron, what would that be?

Winnie: That the strength of your convictions may one day be put to the test.

Great Lakes Literary: Do you have a favorite scene or small incident in Phoebe’s Heron that you like best?

Winnie: That’s easy: the scene where Phoebe is alone high in the tree and the great blue heron flies by. She is filled with wonder and awe at the beauty of such a living creature. That moment also cements her resolve not to sacrifice the bird’s life by telling Jed of the nest’s whereabouts.

Great Lakes Literary: What did YOU learn or discover from writing this book that has stayed with you?

Winnie: I learned patience. It’s one thing to understand the need for patience, it’s another to practice it.  Sometimes, in the course of writing or revising what began as a picture book, there would be a piece missing, and I’d have to wait until something clarified in my mind.

That didn’t mean I stopped working on it, in fact the opposite was true: I’d sort through and untangle a number of different options. One would eventually surface, and I’d be convinced of the truth of it. For example, I was tempted to have Phoebe tell Jed about the great blue heron, and keep their friendship in tact, and somehow protect the life of the blue heron, but it just was impossible to make it work that way. Phoebe had to live with and be at peace with the consequence of her difficult decision.

Phoebe's Heron, by Winnie Anderson

Phoebe’s Heron
by Winnie Anderson
Crispin Books, 2018

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