Still a Family, a picture book by Brenda Reeves Sturgis with pictures by Jo-Shin Lee, is a sweet look at a family who remains together, despite living at different homeless shelters.
We were lucky enough to sit down with Brenda Reeves Sturgis to chat about Still a Family, writing routines, and the importance of having a great team.
Q: Why write children’s books?
A: I have wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. I love children, adore them, and am a nanny for Portland Nannies in my other life. I am the mother of four children, and seven grandchildren. I love writing, and so writing for children combines two of the things I love most in this world. I believe children believe what we tell them and they become what they believe and if my books help a child to believe that there is hope to get out of a homeless shelter, that there is hope for their family to find and live a better life, that there is hope that things will get easier then it is nothing short of a gift for me to be able to write about it. This story has been a magical experience, I am so humbled and honored to be part of Still a Family.
Q: What was your inspiration for your title?
A: My inspiration in creating Still a Family ensued after a social media discussion about the plight of the homeless, and why there wasn’t a book to educate children about this very serious subject. I thought it was a meaningful subject, and one that I wanted to write thoughtfully and carefully, with a lot of heart. There are over six million children displaced into shelters annually, that’s a lot of people who are touched by poverty, or dire circumstances. It was my hope in writing this book that this story touches hearts and hearts change lives.
Q: What makes your book stand out?
A: This book is not merely about a child living in a homeless shelter, but a story about how a family remains a family while living in a homeless shelter. This gives it a sense of realism because everybody wants to connect with their own children or spouses. This book is a perfect marriage between art and text. The art makes this book stand out. Jo-Shin Lee did phenomenal work on this story, Albert Whitman couldn’t have chosen a more perfect illustrator to illustrate this very serious subject matter. It was illustrated in a non-threatening way to a child, in kid-friendly colors, and childlike illustrations. This makes this book visually appealing and I hope the text tells an important story to parents and for their children, and most of all, I hope it raises awareness to the journey of homelessness and gives everyone a desire to help, instead of roll up their windows, lock their doors, and avert their eyes.
Q: Do you have a regular routine while creating a book?
A: I tend to be a fast reviser, spending hours and days at my computer until I get the subject matter, the text, and the story just right. I am in incessant researcher; I am always dabbling into my thesaurus or on Rhyme Zone to find new ways to say something. It is always my deepest desire that the text I write will sing to the reader. I hate to keep editors waiting for me, and so I often write in the middle of the night. My usual writing time is 3:00 a.m.
Q: What’s the easiest and hardest part of creating a book?
A: I think the easiest part is my relationship with my agent, Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary; she is an amazing agent and allows me the liberty of bouncing ideas off her, and she is always willing to look at my work and gets back to me quickly. The hardest part for me is always finding the problem in the story. I enjoy the process and I enjoy finding inventive language. It’s difficult to remain optimistic hoping that an editor will love what I have written and want to take a chance to see what I can bring to the table.
Q: Do you have any writing quirks?
A: I am a solitary writer, obsessive compulsive about getting everything exactly right. As I said above, I hate to keep editors waiting and so I tend to write quickly but carefully, always cognizant of an editor’s other commitments and time.
Q: What was the process of working with your editor like?
A: Working with Andrea Hall was a dream for me. She was very attentive, and thoughtful in her revision notes. We worked closely for a year on a rewrite and many revisions. She had a very clear vision for Still a Family and I trusted her implicitly from our first hello. She made every page better, every word count, and she was a delight. I am hoping that we can work together again because it was an amazing and surreal experience for me, and one for which I am eternally grateful.
Q: Are you working on any other projects?
A: I am working on several projects presently. I’ve recently paired with a wonderful writer that I’ve known for years, and we have partnered and are creating stories together. She is a perfect Yin to my Yang, and she was my very first friend at Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. We are in the process of writing fractured fairy tales both in rhyme and in prose.
Q: What books did you like to read as a kid? What type of books do you like to read now?
A: I loved all books that I could get my hands on, and would spend all weekend every weekend holed up in my room, reading and writing. When my friends were at parties, I was home reading. It was a normal occurrence in my house for me to read two or three books in a weekend. It is still my favorite way to spend a lazy weekend. Tea and books, books and tea, and occasional coffee. I love autobiographies, I love history books, I love a good YA, and of every picture book is a great book to read.
Thanks, Brenda! Learn more about Still a Family on our website.