Ann Downer

© 2010 Sarah Fishman

Ann Downer was born in Virginia and spent part of her childhood in the Philippines and in Thailand. She is the author of five fantasy novels for young readers and three previous books about science, including the award-winning Elephant Talk: The Surprising Science of Elephant Communication for Twenty-First Century Books. Her first picture book, Shark Baby, was published in 2013. She lives outside Boston, Massachusetts, with her husband and son. Their backyard is visited by woodchucks, skunks, and rabbits, but no bears—so far.


What was your favorite book when you were a child?

I can’t possibly pick one! I loved so many. The Little House books. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. A Wrinkle in Time. A Wizard of Earthsea. A Wizard of Earthsea was the book that made me want to be a writer.

What’s your favorite line from a book?

That’s a very hard question. I’ll rephrase it as favorite first line, which is a little easier: “Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, ‘and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice ‘without pictures or conversation?’” from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Who are your top three favorite authors or illustrators?

Ursula LeGuin, Madeleine L’Engle, and Lloyd Alexander. Illustators: John Tenniel’s illustrations for the original Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, William Wallace Denslow’s illustrations for L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, and then a tie for third place (is that cheating?) between Peggy Bacon’s illustrations for The Ghost of Opalina and Fritz Eichenberg’s lovely images of Lilliputians in T. H. White’s Mistress Masham’s Repose.

Why did you want to become an author or illustrator?

I had some characters inside me who needed to tell their stories.

Do you have any advice for future authors or illustrators?

Read. There is no better way to open the door to being a good writer than by reading voraciously. Allow yourself to make mistakes in your writing, and then learn to correct them. And don’t forget to go out into the world with open eyes, open ears, and an open mind and observe all you can about the world and the way people talk, move, and act.