Friday, September 21, 2018

The Flying Trunk: An Interview with Joanna Hastings by Cynthia Furlong Reynolds

Children’s writers are renowned for their creativity and ingenuity, but Joanna Hastings of Ann Arbor has added a new twist to her writing career.

In Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale “The Flying Trunk”, a hapless young man is whisked to an exotic land as a passenger in a flying trunk. There he discovers the power and magic of a good story—and so have generations of children.

Former Summers-Knoll School (Ann Arbor) head Joanna Hastings has created her own 21st-century Ann Arbor version of the flying trunk. Hers holds mysterious treasures that will accompany magical chapter-length stories as they whisk through the postal system and into children’s mailboxes. Hastings writes the stories, selects from an array of fascinating artifacts, and mails them to children.

Last year, she opened this new business and a new phase of her life after she lost a beloved family member, divorced, and watched her last child leave the nest. “I realized how quickly time was passing and that I needed to make my life count.” So, she announced her resignation from a job she loved and set off on her adventures, not quite sure where they would lead her.

“I’d always wanted to be an author and I realized that if that was my goal, I’d better get started on it.” She remembered hearing her mother tell friends, “Joanna was born writing.”

“I just never wrote anything that was published,” she says. “Life got in the way. But suddenly I had the time to write.” So she asked herself, “What would bring a child joy?”

The answer: “Mysterious, inspiring, absorbing, extraordinary, unfathomable, iridescent adventures…to stir serious delight.” Flying Trunk was created.

“Helping children engage with language and ideas is a core part of the person I am,” Hastings says. “When I hit on the Flying Trunk idea, I realized it could stimulate language skills and ideas while engaging children in age-appropriate materials.”

 “Essentially, I’m writing dramatic monologues with themes like courage, honor, and integrity,” she says. “Then I choose artifacts to help readers solve the mystery or challenge: antique gloves (“the gloves of protection”), a vintage book (to contain a clue), a beautiful but broken watch (“the gateway to another time”), silk flower petals (“put them under your pillow to give you courage”), among others. “I love going to garage sales, thrift stores, and estate sales, so I’ve combined that fun with my storytelling,” she says.

Learn more at Joanna's website:

Grownups suggest themes or characters guaranteed to fascinate their children. Hastings creates a persona for herself (a genie, fairy, time-traveler, or storytelling rabbit are among the favorites) and writes an interactive story, using a handwriting font that suits the character. She chooses a treasure, seals each package with an old-fashioned wax seal or a ribbon—“whatever’s right for the story”—and sends them on their way.

“I love what I do,” Joanna Hastings says, sipping on a cup of good English tea. “Wonder fuels inspiration, inspiration drives creation, creation pushes the boundaries of thinking, and provides a sandbox where children can play with skills—writing, storytelling, deep reading, and the sheer joy of language.”

*This post was adapted from a story first published in the Ann Arbor Observer.

Cynthia Furlong Reynolds has written 12 children’s books, a chapter book series, Middle Reader novel, 9 histories (2 of them Michigan Notable Books), a writing manual and workbook, several historical novels, and countless news stories. At an early age, she realized her calling: helping people tell their stories, as GRAMMIE's SECRET CUPBOARD (2008 Mom’s Choice Award) reveals. She is finishing two Michigan-based books, a history and a YA novel. Cindy leads writing workshops, freelances as editor/ghost writer, and loves invitations to schools. A Maine native and Dexter resident, she earned her MFA in creative writing from the University of Maine’s Stonecoast program. Her website:


  1. Beautiful website, great concept. Kudos.

  2. What an amazing concept! Love this and will share it on our Facebook page!

    1. Thank you so much for sharing, Ashley, and for your kind words.

  3. This must be so much fun! Love to see people decide to do what makes them happy and find a business along the way!

  4. Sorry I missed this comment, Carrie! Thank you for your kind words.