School News

Annie Hirschhorn '95

Recently, Annie Hirschhorn ’95 moved back to the DC area, and we had a chance to talk with her about her teaching career and her illustrations for Heroic Henrietta: How One Unicorn Overcame Her Anxiety by Dr. Janna Koretz. Since we spoke to Annie last fall, she and Janna were featured speakers on the subject of anxiety and kids in the Talks at Google series, and they have sent two more books into production. This winter, Annie returned to Lowell to share her original watercolors at the Alum Family Party, to talk with Kindergarten and 1st grade students about the ins and outs of book illustration, and to demonstrate digital drawing techniques using ProCreate at Lowell’s annual STEMFest.
 
You were an Art History major at Yale and then a 6th grade teacher. What was your path from Art History major to teacher to illustrator?
 
Barbara Mandel, my art teacher at Lowell, was amazing, and I always loved doing art. My parents were very supportive, and I kept making art at Maret and in college. After college and while I was teaching, I wasn’t producing art. But, last summer I went to a friend’s house for dinner, and the book idea came up. I began collaborating with Janna [Koretz], the author, and then I signed a contract to do Heroic Henrietta.
 
Where does teaching fit in?
 
I love teaching. I worked at Lowell summer camp and in the summer of 2006, I went to South Africa on the Thomas Barry student travel fellowship. While there, I taught an entrepreneurship course in a township and 5th grade at the Simonstown School. I took teacher prep courses my senior year at Yale and called Abigail [Wiebenson] when I decided I wanted to teach. She suggested the University Child Development School in Seattle, WA, where I entered the Resident Teacher Program and worked with a mentor teacher in 2008-2009. After that, I taught Art and English at Billings Middle School, also in Seattle.
 
I came back to the east coast and earned my MET degree from Match Education in Boston. I was curious about the charter school movement and wanted to try something different, so I taught English at Boston Prep for two years. But, there wasn’t much room for joyful experimentation and learning there, and teachers and students didn’t get much positive reinforcement.
 
In considering my next move, I thought about museum education, but there are things I am more passionate about. I have always been interested in social justice. I was co-president of the diversity club at Maret, and I worked with white students in Seattle who thought racism was over. I believe in what charter schools are doing to empower individuals and communities. Advocacy and getting people together who are very different is important. There are real opportunities there, and kids are capable of a lot.
 
What appealed to you about the Heroic Henrietta project?
 
Heroic Henrietta is about helping kids and educating people about mental health, something that’s been so taboo to talk about. This book is an opportunity to “norm” it. I was excited to get back to making art and doing a project that was really worthwhile.
 
Why is Henrietta a unicorn?
 
That was the author’s decision. Janna and her business partner have a clinical psychology practice and they have a stuffed unicorn in their office. That’s why Henrietta looks a little bit like a hippo!
 
What is your favorite illustration in Heroic Henrietta?
 
The drawings of Henrietta in class and her “thoughts of gloom” are my favorites. My fiancée, Evan, likes the image of Henrietta pressed against the window looking at her friends playing outside. I want my drawings to evoke empathy.
 
Did you learn anything surprising while producing Heroic Henrietta?
 
It was a multi-step process. There was the business side of things—getting a contract written up by a lawyer, questions of ownership—and there was the artistic process.
 
I started with the words of the book and planned what was going to happen on each page. I made notes and looked at pictures of animals for inspiration. I did small sketches, quick full-size sketches, and final drawings on nice water color paper. I started with pencil, inked in the lines, and added watercolor. Watercolor is so hard; there are no mistakes. It took a long time!
 
Now, I do all my illustrations on an iPad, and it’s surprisingly different, both more methodical and more forgiving. I might draw the character’s suspenders on every page before moving on to other elements in the pictures. I outsource some of the coloring to Evan, who painted all the desks and chairs in the latest book.
 
What’s next for you?
 
Janna and I have created two more books about learning and developmental differences, one featuring Henrietta. The other book introduces a new main character, Orky, who is half-orca, half-narwhal and just wants some friends a whole lot. We hope to have them available for purchase on Amazon soon!
 
Since moving back to the DC area, I have started my own professional organizing business, Clean Lines. I help clients downsize, undergo moves, clear estates, and set up online bill-pay and filing systems. I love working with people and hearing their stories as we sort through their things. It is great to help lessen clients’ stress and clutter so they can focus on what matters most to them.
 
I am also actively involved in SURJ-DC. SURJ, which stands for Showing Up for Racial Justice, is a community organization whose mission is to educate white people about race and privilege and, by taking the lead from organizations led by person of color, to create an actively anti-racist white community. As a member of the SURJ Education Team, I helped organize and write curriculum for reading groups whose purpose is to bring groups across the city together to discuss whiteness and privilege and to plan and implement anti-racist efforts and actions. We have 500 members signed up for 45 different reading groups, and they are off to a great start!