(In our continuing series of BAIPA authors interviewing BAIPA authors, children’s author Christina V. Kueppers interviewed author Andrea Anderson about her new book, A Journey to Silicon Valley and Beyond.)
“Unlike explorers in the old days who discovered and then conquered places that were actually there, Silicon Valley explorers imagine things that are not in the world yet and then turn them into reality.”
— Andrea Anderson
CVK: Andrea, I remember when we met at a BAIPA meeting for the very first time, and you told me you were writing a children’s book about Silicon Valley. I thought, what a great idea! Why did you decide to write this book?
AA: It seems like a simple question, but the answer is so complex. I think that, like the roots of a tree grow into one trunk, many influences came together that eventually made me write a book:
- I love children’s books that convey big messages in a simple way.
- When we first moved here from London, I was looking for a children’s book about Silicon Valley for our family and couldn’t find any. Identifying with the area you live in is important, in my opinion. One way to achieve that is to learn more about the area. For kids, it is fun to explore and identify through a children’s story that teaches well.
- The aspect of exploration probably came along when we had our first visitors, who wanted me to share the fascination of Silicon Valley with them. Guess what, apart from company signs and office buildings, it was really challenging to come to the core of what is interesting and what conveys the fascination of Silicon Valley.
- I’ve had a strong interest in success, giftedness, and early childhood education since my University times where I wrote my thesis about giftedness. In Silicon Valley, you are surrounded by talented people. Yet, I noticed how challenging it can be to combine this talent with nurturing well-rounded, balanced and fulfilling life styles.
- So, overall it was really me, figuring out our area and the characteristics of the people, and my desire to get that across in a simple and appealing way. We can always read further on the Internet, but I needed some help figuring out where to start. I am hoping my book helps others see the fascination of Silicon Valley, explore more and be inspired by its educational values for their own family.
CVK: What is the main message you wanted to convey to children and their parents in your book?
AA: Even though my book starts with the exploration of Silicon Valley, I really want to bring across character traits that create long- term success and happiness. Passion – purpose – perseverance are three of my favorite key words in this context. We parents often start an activity with the end goal of a successful future for our children in mind. Over that time, the journey to get there easily gets forgotten. This is life, every day, every little step. It’s not about that one big goal that we need to achieve one day. Many little steps lead to our goals. Most of all, those goals need to be linked to what we feel deeply passionate about. These passions change over time, and so having a thoughtful awareness of who they really want to become is important for our children to sense and know. Sometimes it seems like our next generation’s upbringing is turning into a race to nowhere. I want to remind us of the importance of creativity, going down unproven paths, not being afraid to make mistakes, following an inner spark and daring to explore. Listening to the voices within us and daring to follow them… that’s what successful entrepreneurs do. Success is a curvy path, not a straight road. So enjoy the journey!
CVK: How did your family contribute to your book? I can only imagine how many times you took your children to explore Silicon Valley.
AA: I think I was really the driving force here of being interested in exploring our area. Visiting company signs, office buildings and torn–down locations where something abstract happened many years ago is not really exciting for small kids. Obviously, there are interesting places around that you can visit. Just like in my story, it is more interesting for the kids to be presented with a pre-screened version of exploration.
I think we can influence kids in many ways. If I role-model to them to just stay in our own little bubble, they would learn that as well. I remember living in London and being fascinated about all the sights on the way between offices. When I talked to business people around, they passed the sights every day and didn’t notice them, just engaged in the challenges of their business world. I felt that so much was missed out on in life when you live and work in one of the most amazing places in the world and all you engage with is the work on your computer. I think it is important to shake up life a little bit every day and to let other ideas develop in our minds – or to just enjoy the beauty of our surroundings.
I took that to a whole different level and trained as a certified city guide in London. I guess a bit of that desire to explore and learn and share got carried over to my new life in Silicon Valley.
I did do lots of exploration tours though Silicon Valley. Every little trip turns into an exploration. That’s when you start to appreciate unplanned detours, because you always discover something new. I actually also learned from my children’s field trips when they were in elementary school. Later I did my own explorations and my son Julius would make birthday or Christmas gifts to take me on an SVB Tour, as we called it. He would give me a whole day of his time, I would have a list of places I wanted to check out and we would have a wonderful bonding time together. He was my empowered tour guide. It makes great childhood memories now. Some photos of these trips made it onto the book’s website in the “Explore” section, and others are on the Instagram feed.
I think wherever I live, I just want to remain aware of the excitement of the area and remember why I live there.
Just because it’s a children’s book doesn’t mean my exploration was just child-centered. I needed to understand more than the content I present. My dear and patient husband accepted that our date nights would not be at fancy restaurants, but at tech-related lectures, like at the Computer History Museum. There are a lot of great events going on in Silicon Valley, such as Meetups.
CVK: There are so many companies in Silicon Valley that change the world every day. How did you decide which companies you would include in your book?
AA: This is a tricky one, as Silicon Valley is changing faster than you can write and print a book. Choosing what to put into your story is one of the hardest challenges, in my opinion. There are so many fascinating companies and ideas in Silicon Valley. I kind of focused on the almost “established” ones. I kept thinking that my next book will be about ideas and startups. But that brings me back to the beginnings. With my choice of companies and mindset messages, I tried to make the book a bit more timeless. In a way, the companies I chose are an important part of the history of Silicon Valley from the 1990s onwards.
I decided to start with many people’s actual reality, but keep it focused on just Silicon Valley companies. For example, I open my computer – made by Apple, just up the road in Cupertino. It is powered by Intel chips — Intel is based in Santa Clara, one of the early and historically significant companies in the development of Silicon Valley. As I go on about this daily habit of going on my computer, I use more companies’ services that originate in Silicon Valley. First, I Google something, and that company is in Mountain View, and then I check Facebook (Menlo Park). I might want to go online shopping and use eBay (Campbell/ San Jose). In the end, I want to chill with a nice movie and so I choose Netflix (Los Gatos).
Of course, today there are many other options for these services, but my goal was to keep it local to Silicon Valley and also to link it to the origins of becoming the major tech and innovation area in the world. Stanford University is a key part of this role.
The one company that I wanted to bring into my story, but didn’t see a link through my daily computer use, was Tesla. Obviously, implementing technology from the area is one big link to Tesla, but I will let you read the book and see how I weaved that into the story. Tesla then gave me other challenges, because over time, Elon Musk became known for a whole infrastructure of related ideas, products and locations. By the way, it took me quite a while from first idea to printed book – and I had to adjust my script!
CVK: I was excited to see that you wrote about Tesla Inc., as I have been a strong supporter of Elon Musk’s innovations. He is truly a visionary as evidenced by his brilliant mind! Here is a quote from your book: “It’s great we can reduce the pollution cars make and breathe cleaner air.” It’s good that you show how Tesla Inc. changes the world by helping solve important environmental issues. Do you think we should have more children’s books and educational programs focusing on technology in connection with creativity?
AA: I think all technological innovation goes hand in hand with creativity. STEM education in our schools focuses on teaching and nurturing these skills. Design Thinking in schools and companies brings structure to the creative, collaborative process.
In terms of bringing that message to children, I think we need to keep the concept of creativity broad. It’s a life style, it’s a foundation of your thinking and your actions. If we try to “teach” creativity, we are channeling it already and undermining the true creative process. All these creative entrepreneurs would not have come up with their innovations had they not always looked at the bigger picture of their ideas.
Today, we think technology is everything in terms of progress. And I agree, it is a major part. But it will mostly be how we make ideas happen. We created technology, and it will keep developing. But we don’t want to narrow kids into always linking technology with creativity. We need to bring up kids who can think great ideas. Technology is one aspect that will bring these ideas to life. Who knows what the next big invention will be? But one thing is for sure; technology will be aiding many great ideas from an abundance of disciplines to become reality.
CVK: Please tell me about your dream team: the designer, the illustrator, and the editor.
AA: Well, when I had written up my little story, I realized that if I wanted to publish it, I wanted it to be a professional product. Putting the right team together takes effort. Not everybody is excited about your idea. You need people who understand your vision – because you have no way of showing them a fascinating product yet. Apart from not having an external publishing company, I enjoyed and learned so much from managing the full production of this book.
I met Linda Jay, my editor, at BAIPA. She got my concept as an idea and was super–responsive whenever I gave her work to review. It helps a lot to have a “lightning-fast editor” to keep moving forward.
Finding a graphic designer and an illustrator was a bit tougher for me. I had a vision of how I was going to design the book. The final product is nowhere near that idea, and I am so glad about this. My design team really managed to implement the style of modern Silicon Valley into the appearance of this book. Simplicity, white space, clear shapes and colors. All the pages are in style and color scheme with the companies, and the characters’ appearance enhances that theme on each page.
I asked around a lot for illustrators and looked online, but I wasn’t really getting anywhere. Eventually, I put out flyers at all our local colleges and universities. I figured, I can make this a win-win situation and work with young, inspired talent. My catch phrase was something along the lines of, “Do you want to be a published illustrator / graphic designer before you graduate?”
I interviewed a couple of very talented students and decided on Monica Shehata and Vicky Vo. I think at the time I didn’t even quite understand why I was taking two students, it was a good decision. Monica is a student at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, whereas Vicky was a student at West Valley College, close by in Saratoga. The three of us only met twice and the rest was done online, thanks to modern technology. Vicky and I met more often to discuss ideas in person. That was always very engaging and fun, and our whole family grew to enjoy having Vicky over.
CVK: How has being a BAIPA member helped you in your writing journey?
AA: By the time I came to BAIPA, I had written my book, but needed to figure out self-publishing. Before I joined, I had not engaged with this at all. Rather than just exploring it all alone on the internet, I decided to attend BAIPA meetings. It helps to get out of your own network when trying something new. I felt I wanted to work with people who weren’t just from my own community. I’ve always enjoyed the social aspect at BAIPA too, and being able to exchange ideas with other authors. Also, over time I heard a lot of good speakers.
CVK: What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book?
AA: That things can take a long time. Sometimes I wished I had a whole entourage that just sorts it all out for me. A lot of attention to detail goes into a simple book. Sometimes you sit and think over little decisions for a long time.
CVK: Do you have any new projects on the way?
AA: I have a whole file of snippets of ideas for other projects. I am drawn between focusing on promoting this book and expanding beyond it, versus focusing my time on more writing. I will write more… but for me, writing starts with the idea in my head that wants to make it onto paper. I don’t sit down with the intent to write a book. Lots of ideas are there. I need to see which one I develop next.
CVK: Andrea, thank you for an interesting conversation. Good luck to you with your book and your new endeavors. Special thanks to Linda Jay for editorial support for this interview.
For more, see tosiliconvalleyandbeyond.com.