The connection I made to Brenda Reeves Sturgis via Tara Lazar's Storystorm community made today’s post possible. STILL A FAMILY by Brenda Reeves Sturgis has a book birthday tomorrow. Today I review the book and begin a two part interview on Brenda. Read Part 2 of my interview onThursday, February 9.
STILL A FAMILY is a timely picture book that shares what some folks deem a "difficult" topic" for children – homelessness. Yet, the book is upbeat and honest. Brenda sprinkles facts and dispels myths about the homeless in this sweet story of a young girl and her parents who navigate the hard truth of being apart, yet together. Children and some adults may not know that there are very few shelters where families can remain intact. Men usually live in a shelter just for them, while women and children are housed in another.
Check out the book trailer above for another book look.
Author Sturgis picks just the right details and tone to share in this young girl's story. She makes friends, has a doll named Molly who is always in tow, and meets her father in the park for family fun, just like most families do, homeless or not. But, reality is portrayed realistically. Our main character misses her own bed and the quiet of her home; she stands in soup kitchen lines, and she wishes her shoes weren't so tight. Her parents look for work daily, and sometimes when it rains, they must create a lean-to. The young girl's refrain, "We're still a family" will reassure young readers that love prevails even in hard times. Jo-Shin Lee's compelling, child-like illustrations will also make young readers feel a part of the narrative.
The Author's Note and Resources section in the back matter further illuminate the problem of homelessness and what we all can do to help. Finally, even though Amazon indicates age ranges as K-3 grade, I feel that students grades 4-8 could also appreciate this picture book. Innovative teachers will find a way to incorporate social studies and service learning/community projects into a unit with this book.
1. Brenda suggests sharing or buying a copy of this book for your local homeless shelter. She sent me a free, autographed copy for review purposes. (A percentage of every copy of STILL A FAMILY will go toward helping homeless shelters.)
2. I plan to buy a second copy to donate to my downtown Columbus, Ohio shelter. I'll contact the shelter and see if I can conduct a story time with the children there. Since my burgeoning bookshelves need a weeding, I'm going to also donate a variety of gently-used children's books, too. (You may want to do the same thing and brush up on your read aloud skills. It's a win-win for all.)
3. Brenda speaks from her heart when she says, "My goal is to touch a million hearts. And my ultimate goal is for those million hearts to do SOMETHING, anything, to help. Even one small thing can help somebody: purchase socks, buy a bus pass, donate money, or a book. We see homeless people on the streets and we avert our eyes, we put our heads down, we fidget with our radios, we lock our doors. Most of us do this BECAUSE... it is scary."
4. You can purchase this book via Amazon (click here) or at your favorite book store.
Q & A with Brenda, Part One
K: Before you wrote STILL A FAMILY, did your research include visiting homeless shelters or talking with homeless children? What opened your heart to this topic?
B. I have not had the honor of speaking to children in shelters yet, however that is my biggest goal and my life's upcoming mission. Although I have made several calls to shelters, I have not been able to get "in" the door yet. Shelter staffs are always so busy helping day in and out.
Once the book comes out, I plan to go to shelters to read and share it. Fourteen years ago, at the beginning of my writing career, I did create a book drive for shelters and children's hospitals. Many authors sent me copies of their books, which I sent to shelters across the country. This serious problem has been on my heart for many years, and now I can actually do something to raise social awareness.
K : I was impressed by your ability as a writer to broach a so-called "tough" topic. How did you get the tone right and what other craft considerations came into play?
B: Kathy, this is a great question! Thank you for asking it. At first, I wrote this book in rhyme. The opening stanza started like this, "In the hubbub of the city, under brisk and starry skies, I plumped my chilly pillow and arranged our scarce supplies." As a rhymer, this was where my heart wanted to go with this story. However, the rhyme did not fit the story AT ALL. It was too upbeat. BUT...after thoughtful editorial feedback, and trying to find the right tone, I knew it had to be rewritten in prose. Prose to me has always been like pulling teeth. BEYOND DIFFICULT.
K: What other members of your personal writing community helped you make this book shine?
B: My editor, Andrea Hall, Albert Whitman & Company, gave me wonderful direction with tone and clarity. In the first draft, the family hit tough times, Dad lost his job; the electricity was cut off. I liken these events to a tornado that picked up speed and landed this family in the shelter. After many rounds of revision, Andrea asked for something different.
Now my brilliant critique partner, Carrie Clickard (MAGIC FOR SALE) said, "Brenda, they don't want to know how they got into the shelter, they want to know how a family stays a family while living in a shelter." And just like that, the light bulb came on; I wrote the story; Andrea was correct in her vision. (K's note - a great editor is key - we need to listen up and understand what they and our CPs are telling us!)
K: What advice do you have for us non-rhymers?
B: Writing rhyme is so tough. Your meter must be 100% spot-on, and it's hard to sell. (Think foreign rights, translation, and salability in the foreign market.) People told me, "If you never want to be published, write in rhyme." I'm a tad stubborn and didn't believe them, so I pushed on and did sell 10 TEN TURKEYS IN THE ROAD to Marshall Cavendish and then to Scholastic. THE LAKE WHERE LOON LIVES, a cumulative rhymer, sold to Islandport Press, and TOUCHDOWN is published by MeeGenius. (Find all my books on my web site here.)
K: And now a few rapid-fire questions and answers:
K: Favorite dessert? B: Creme' Brulée
K: Favorite author? B: Lisa Wheeler, Kelly DiPucchio, the late Linda Smith, Carrie Clickard, Jenni Bielcki, and Mona Pease.
K: Favorite place to write? Always in my yellow sunshiny office.
More about Brenda's journey as an author, more advice to writers, and more folks she'd like to thank on Thursday, February 9.
K: We writers can be chatty, but Brenda's parting words to GROG readers today are, "Don't lose heart. Keep on. Keep believing that your dream can happen. Do the work you need to do. Use everyday to help somebody because you get back what you put out ten-fold - whether it's good or bad, it all comes back."
K: Thank you, Kelly. Remember, more inspiration on February 9. Until then, Brenda and I ask you to go make a difference for others however you can.