An Interview with Nancy Stewart
Written by
Laura Page
February 2011
Written by
Laura Page
February 2011
A few weeks ago, I reviewed the book "One Pelican at a Time," a children's book written by Nancy Stewart. Since then, I've had the wonderful opportunity to chat with Nancy a bit and get her perspective on reading and writing children's and young adult literature. The following is an interview that Nancy graciously agreed to do for Literary Legs!

Laura: In your blog biography, you tell readers that you enjoyed school as a young person, and that teaching was a natural career choice for you. What attracted you to the elementary school age group?

Nancy: I did enjoy school, very much, and loved reading always. I’m a visual person so am naturally drawn to picture books. For so many years, of course, I read texts in school and while teaching. When, though, I began to teach Children’s Literature, a rebirth in reading occurred to me. I remembered what I so loved about these books and vowed never again to find myself so far away from them. It was a natural, then, to begin to write them. Once I did, I never looked back.

Laura: As a writer and an educator, what do you feel are some important components of children’s and young adult literature?

Nancy: What an insightful question—and so important. I think we begin and end answering it with one word. Imagination. We have to write with a child’s imagination in mind. We have to, through our words, empower a child to imagine in and around the story. And we have to allow the child to imagine what the ending would or will be like and why? Of course, there are so many other components such as honesty, truth and knowledge. But the greatest of them all is imagination. In fact, every page turn should say, “Kids’ imaginations at work!”

Laura: Can you describe your experiences working with the Society of Book Writers and Illustrators? What has made the most impact on you there?

Nancy: To me, SCBWI is invaluable. I joined as a new writer in an obligatory fashion. One just does it. Soon after, though, I began to see how important it is to a writer of children’s books. I do attend national conferences, and they are rich for getting new ideas and for networking. For me, however, my local chapter is the driving force. I don’t make a literary move without it. We meet once a month, have honest critiques and trust each other implicitly. I recommend the organization unequivocally to any writer of children’s books, no matter how callow or experienced one is in the profession.

Laura: Your books are publications of Gaurdian Angel Press. Can you tell us something about this publishing company and how you became involved with them

Nancy: I’m always pleased to talk about Guardian Angel Publishing. It is a publishing house for children’s books only and is based in St. Louis. As I live in St. Louis, it was total serendipity that I found it. Several people not from the area mentioned the house to me in glowing terms, and I queried them. GAP has been wonderful to me in every way. I have had freedom to express my views on my books and even (which almost never happens) had some input into which illustrator appealed to me. It is a wonderful publishing house that produces lovely children’s books. My series, illustrated by Samantha Bell, will be published in hardback, soft cover and eBook.

Laura: In your blog bio, you mention that your family loves to travel. How have your travels inspired you as a writer?

Nancy: Oh, my. For me, travel is like eating bread. Ideas flow freely when I travel. Four years ago, I boarded a plane to London and six hours later at the flight’s end, I had written a picture book called Viva la Diva. I do think that the more we travel, the more alike we humans all seem. But there are rich cultural dimensions to be found only in travel, and this makes the difference to me.

Laura: You've also mentioned that your move to Clearwater Beach, Florida, specifically, had an impact on your creative work. Tell us a little about that.

Nancy: Yes, spending some of our time in Clearwater Beach has had a profound impact on me. We bought a condo on the beach three years ago and try to get there as much as possible. Living on the water, walking along the beach, coming into constant contact with the animals and birds has changed my life, perhaps my very DNA. My ideas of conservation and guarding our planet for future generations have all taken root there and are defining who I am more and more.

Laura: Your “Bella and Britt” children’s’ book series is about two little girls whose adventures at the beach have to do with protecting the marine habitat as well as creatures that live there. Can you tell us something about each of these characters and how they came alive for you?

Nancy: Bella came to me as my husband and I were walking along the beach early one morning. It was as simple a beginning as seeing the name Bella written into a sand heart from the night before. The tide was just reaching it. Britt came to me a week later, when I saw a lovely little African American girl in the water with her parents. Bella and Britt it was. I’ve seen so many children at the beach and have listened to them query their parents about important conservation issues, particularly during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. It made me realize the girls not only have something to say, but they need empowerment to take action. It’s my hope Britt and Bella will be models for other children to become active and, as the girls say, “Take a stand on the sand.”

Laura: What's in the future for Bella and Britt?

Nancy: Many people say that I need to write a book about the girls’ helping to save a dolphin or manatee, a real possibility, indeed. I’ll have to let my little Bella and Britt muse lead me along where she wants me go on that one.

Laura: What would you say to others who would like to begin writing for this age group?

Nancy: I would never discourage anyone from writing picture books. It is a difficult market, and the competition is fierce, and I would be dishonest not to say this. But it is such a gratifying accomplishment, and it can be done. I would tell the novice to write and edit and write some more—and do it all over again. I would tell the same person to join a writer’s group and not to write only in a vacuum. I would tell him or her to not give up, that some of one’s first attempts may be just that, but it’s always a learning curve. And I would tell him or her to read picture books and absorb them. If it is or becomes a passion, one will succeed with time, practice, networking and a bit of luck. I wish all those aspiring writers out there the very best wishes!

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