Eastern Shore author channels life on water with kids’ book

Anna Burger holds her newly published children's book "Pea Soup and the Seafood Feast" at her home in Onancock, Va. on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015. The book celebrates life on the water and the creatures of the Chesapeake Bay. (Jay Diem /The Daily Times via AP) NO SALES; MANDATORY CREDIT

ONANCOCK, Va. (AP) — An Eastern Shore of Virginia native who grew up fishing and crabbing on Onancock Creek has authored a children’s book celebrating life on the water and the creatures that live in the Chesapeake Bay.

Anna Burger wrote “Pea Soup and the Seafood Feast” during the winter of 2012 and asked another Shore native, her childhood friend Laura Gordon Craig, to illustrate it.

Belle Isle Books of Richmond published the book earlier this month.

“First-time author Anna Burger incorporates the lessons she learned from her own experiences and shows true appreciation for the knowledge instilled by life on the water,” a release from the publisher said, adding, “Accompanied by Laura Craig’s vivid watercolor illustrations, ‘Pea Soup and the Seafood Feast’ demonstrates how an exploration and appreciation of one’s natural surroundings can be celebrated and shared from one generation to the next.”

The book is about a little boy who dons his life jacket, grabs his fishing gear and sets off alone in his boat to harvest seafood for a feast after hearing his mother say she is cooking pea soup — not his favorite food — for dinner.

The story, which has a surprise ending, describes Jack’s encounters along the way with blue crabs, clams, a flounder and a spot.

Burger will sign copies of the book at the Book Bin from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 26. Craig also will be at the book signing.

Both women will be at the Onancock Market’s holiday market on Saturday, Nov. 21, where the book will be for sale and Craig also will have artwork for sale.

An attorney by training, Burger has enjoyed writing ever since she took a high school creative writing class at St. Andrews School in Middletown, Delaware.

“I had a really inspired teacher and that really stuck with me,” she said, adding, “I worked on it some over the years, but I didn’t really consistently get into it until I was living here a few years ago. … I’ve always considered myself a writer, but this is the first thing I’ve had published, so now I feel like I can finally say that I am a writer,” she said.

Burger, the daughter of Bill and Claudia Bagwell, lives just around the creek’s bend from where she grew up in Onancock.

Her inspiration for the book came in part from her view, from a window near her writing desk, of a small dock in the backyard jutting out into a branch of Onancock Creek.

“I was looking out at the dock and I was reminded of going crabbing with my father and going fishing with my grandfather — those were happy memories for me. … It started there,” she said.

Besides being an attorney and an author, Burger also is a wife and the mother of a toddler who uncannily resembles Craig’s paintings of the book’s protagonist.

“Strangely, he looks like Jack, and the illustrations were done before he was even born,” she said.

Craig said she based Jack’s appearance loosely on her little brother John, who is her junior by 15 years.

“I have this image of him and his older brother, Christian, sitting on their own dock,” she said.

Still, she worked to make the illustrations not too specific, “because I was hoping he could be a universal kid” — one who the reader would picture in her mind when she thought of an Eastern Shore child going out on the water on a summer’s day.

The idea was to depict “a young boy having fun in the summertime,” she said.

Craig particularly enjoyed painting the blue crabs featured in the story.

“They were really fun to paint, because they are really colorful and iconic,” she said.

Burger and Craig grew up together on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, so when it came time for Burger to find an illustrator for her story, the choice was easy.

“We’ve been friends since we were children. We went to Montessori school together and stayed friends over the years,” said Burger, adding, “She’s a very talented artist.”

Craig now lives with her husband and two young daughters in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where she is a professional artist. She has been painting for most of her life as a hobby, but only took up art as a profession after her older daughter, now 3, was born.

“I picked up paintbrushes for the first time in years to paint a portrait of (her),” she said.

Burger was one of her very first friends as a preschooler, Craig said, making it particularly special to illustrate her friend’s first book.

“Anna thought of me; I was very flattered when she called. … I thought, ‘What could be more fun,’ ” she said, adding, “It’s been really exciting and I’m just so proud to have my name on it.”

Burger dedicated the book to her son, her father and her late grandfather, who she called Daddy Bill.

When she was submitting the story to publishers, one wrote back saying he could not fathom a young child going out on a boat alone.

But Burger, like many who grew up on the Eastern Shore, often did just that as a child — exploring the creek in a rowboat her father had Walt Chandler build for her.

“We launched it over at our dock at my parent’s house and I would row all around Onancock Creek. That made a big impression on me,” she said.

“That’s just childhood to us — that’s just something we naturally understand,” said Craig.

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