Interview with Jennifer J Stewart


About the Author: Jennifer J Stewart, not to be confused with the actress Jennifer Stewart, is a Tucson author who is most well known for her award-winning children’s books, The Twelve Days of Christmas in Arizona, and Close Encounters of a Third-World Kind. A New York native, Jennifer moved to Tucson with her family when she was four and grew up surrounded by mountains and cacti. Graduating from Wellesley College with an honors degree in English, she then attended the University of Utah where she earned her MBA. Returning to her desert home in Tucson, Jennifer began doing what she had wanted to do all along—write. Jennifer is a founding board member of Make Way For Books, a local non-profit that strives to increase literacy and bring the love of reading to children across southern Arizona. Keep your eyes out for a possible doggy secret agent story coming soon from Tucson’s very own Jennifer J Stewart!

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“I never stopped reading children’s books,” laughed Jennifer. It was one of the first things she said to me, and it was what stuck with me throughout the entirety of our conversation. Reflecting back now, it is one of the many things to which I would attribute her success as a writer.

It was a crisp November afternoon and we sat at a small Tucson craft fair behind a modest sign that read, “Local Author: Jennifer J Stewart.” In front of us were samples of her work. Immediately I recognized the book “The Twelve Days of Christmas in Arizona” as a story I myself have read many times. As an aspiring writer myself one of the things I was most interested in learning over the course of our conversation was what inspires and motivates her to write.

Jennifer shared with me how her love for reading and writing was first ignited as a child growing up as the daughter of a children’s librarian. She fondly remembers always being surrounded by books and literature, especially loving the adventures of L. Frank Baum’s many books in the land of OZ. “I’m the kind of person where if I find a book I like I will read every book they’ve ever written,” confides Jennifer.

Since seven years old she has said to herself, “One day I want to have my name on the cover of a book.” She remembers thinking that authors were like rock stars, and so to this day her favorite part of being one herself is talking to children because she gets to live out her lifelong dream of being their rock star. “Connections with my readers are what is most important to me,” she shares. Jennifer cherishes every letter she receives and tells me about how moving it was to get letters from children in Nepal telling her that her book Close Encounters of the Third World Kind felt so authentic and what an impact it had on them.

“There are ideas everywhere,” Jennifer told me with a knowing smile. Close Encounters of the Third-World Kind is loosely based on the adventures she had while in Nepal performing service projects in hospitals and schools. While there Jennifer stumbled across the inspiration that led to another one of her award-winning books. She had been in “the smallest room in the house” when the thought of monogrammed toilet paper crossed her mind and she laughed at the idea of who could afford such a thing—and The Girl Who Has Everything was born. Another time she had been in the car with her children and asked what she should write about. They decided they wanted to read a book about a dragon, and so she had the spark she needed to write her book If That Breathes Fire We’re Toast.

One of my favorite stories Jennifer shared with me was of a time she took her daughter roller-skating. To keep occupied while her daughter and friends raced around the rink Jennifer read. “I never stopped reading children’s books,” she explains, as she describes her mortified eleven-year-old scolding her for embarrassing her by sitting in public and reading a picture book.

“There’s something so magical and innocent about children’s books and I think we could all use a little of that these days.” A child at heart, Jennifer Stewart writes for herself—for the pure joy of writing—and for her readers in the hope of being able to bring even a little bit of that magic into their lives.

Before I left, the last thing I asked Jennifer was what is the one thing she wants her young readers to know. “Read so much your parents tell you to stop, but don’t stop, ever,” she told me. Reading and writing have always been a crucial part of her life and this is something she has always lived by and shared with others. Reaching out to children—the future inheritors of this earth—Jennifer has the ability to shape and change the world, one word at a time, through the spread of love, acceptance, courage and creativity. Jennifer J Stewart is truly an inspiration and I look forward to all the stories she has yet to write!