Angie Smith wrote Audrey Bunny (B&H Kids, 2013) in memory of her daughter Audrey Caroline, who died the day she was born in 2008. Audrey Bunny became a Christian bestseller, making CBA’s Top 5 list, and reached #1 on Amazon’s Christian Children’s Book list in 2013. The book recently was named a 2014 Outreach Resources of the Year winner by Outreach magazine and will be highlighted in their upcoming March/April issue. Smith, a prominent speaker and blogger, talked with PW about the legacy of love written into the pages of Audrey Bunny.
What do you believe makes a great story?
The most important thing for me is a character that makes the reader become emotionally invested in the story. When you're writing for kids, this takes a different shape because you want to tailor it to their attention span and interest, so it's crucial to have them feel connected very early on in the book. Maybe the character is known for being shy or comical, or maybe he's used to being the last one picked for a team. Whatever it is, when it's done well it makes the reader want to keep turning the pages.
When did you decide that you wanted to write children’s books?
I've been writing books for kids since I was old enough to write, but this is the first I got paid to do. I still laugh thinking about the amount of time I spent perfecting some of my earlier "works." In the third grade I watched the school printer squeeze out my first real book, which was, naturally, a stirring story about a group of monsters living in an abandoned hotel. That night I read it to my parents, who cooed and praised me as I turned the pages. I still remember the very last page, which read, "Finally, it was all over. OR WAS IT?!?!" to set me up for the sequel. My teacher told me we should write things that made people want to know what was going to happen next, and I took her seriously.
Where did the idea for Audrey Bunny come from?
About six years ago, I was pregnant with my 4th daughter. At my 20-week ultrasound, we found out that our little girl would not survive. I wanted to prepare my three other girls for the months ahead, so my husband and I bought a stuffed bunny to make the situation more tangible to them. When we lifted the bunny out of the store barrel, it had a mark on its heart. We cried over the fact that Audrey's heart was one of the issues that made her "incompatible with life." The salesperson offered us a discount, but we said we would take it exactly how it was. We sat the bunny on a chair at home and had the kids gather around so we could tell them what was happening. We put two bandaids over the bunny's heart and explained that our baby had “boo-boos” as well, and that we weren't sure if God was going to heal them. For the next several months, the bunny came everywhere with us, and she represented the baby they couldn't see yet. When Audrey was born she lived for two and a half hours. When we buried her, my daughters ripped the bandaids off the bunny, because they understood that even though it hadn't happened the way we wanted it to, she was healed.
Whose work has influenced you, and what were your favorite books as a kid?
The Great Gatsby impacted me a lot in high school--I decided then to be a writer. The symbolism, so expertly and passionately taught to us by my literature teacher, held me spellbound. I loved the idea of all the layers of purpose and the search for the hidden meaning behind the words. When I was a little girl, my favorite author was a British writer named Enid Blyton. I still search used bookstores for anything with her name on it, and I get the biggest thrill when I see my own kids reading her books.
Were there books you loved as a child that continue to be important to you as either models or inspiration for the work you do now?
When I was in 4th grade, I took an empty plastic tub into my classroom while the other students were at recess, filled it with about a dozen books from the "class library," and hid it under my coat. I lied about it for the rest of the year. If you happen to be a schoolteacher in Kobe, Japan, who has been looking for your copy of The Railway Children and Beezus and Ramona for the last 30 years, you've found your thief. I'm glad to get that off my chest.
What has been the biggest thrill about having Audrey Bunny published?
I didn't get to mother Audrey the way I wanted to, but when people read it and understand all that's behind the simple story, I feel like a mom to her. There's a legacy of love that will live on through those pages forever. God did some amazing things as this book was formed, including bringing me an illustrator, Breezy Brookshire, who has become a dear friend. Breezy knew Audrey through my words, and her art brought life to the story. Every time I got a new page spread I would cry, because it was exactly what I had imagined but could never articulate. It was a reminder of a truth I have held close for many years now: my daughter had weight in this world, and she continues to.