Interview: Steena Hernandez
A photograph of Little Thoughts Press Issue Five: New Beginnings with a sneak peek of the poem "Buñuelos" by Steena Hernandez. A yellow page with black text.
Steena Hernandez studied musical theatre and dance, and holds a BFA from Texas Tech University. She has taught Theatre Arts in high school and middle school, and is currently writing picture books and middle grade stories. She is an active member of SCBWI, 12x12 Picture Book Challenge, and was chosen as a 2022 Las Musas mentee. Her debut picture book, LUPITA’S BROWN BALLET SLIPPERS, will be published with Beaming Books in the fall of 2024. She lives in San Antonio, TX with her supportive husband, two amazing children, and a betta fish named Mr. Bubbles.
Little Thoughts Press: Your poem, "Buñuelos," celebrates one of your family's New Year's traditions. Can you talk about the ways in which you've incorporated tradition, memory and culture into your writing? What is your favorite example of something you've written that is informed by your own experience and heritage?
Steena Hernandez: When writing my poem, Buñuelos, I thought about my own childhood traditions and how the memories made me feel. I remember feeling pure joy as my family gathered in the kitchen to help my abuela make the delicious treats. I hoped to capture those moments, and how we celebrated a new year in our home. Food and family are strong connections to my Mexican-American culture. I incorporate my heritage into much of my writing, including my many poems, and most recently, a middle-grade novel in verse that I’m revising.
Little Thoughts Press: Issue 5: New Beginnings is all about fresh starts and new experiences. Can you tell us how you started writing kid-lit and what drew you to creating stories for young readers?
Steena Hernandez: I’m a mother of two, and I read many picture books to my children. Having a background in musical theatre and dance naturally had me animating and acting out the characters. I enjoyed seeing my kids being fully engaged and interacting during story time. My excitement for storytelling drew me further into exploring characters and stories of my own. I jotted down ideas, and before I knew it, I had several stories.
Little Thoughts Press: What do you find most challenging and rewarding about writing for a young audience?
Steena Hernandez: The most challenging thing is making sure my stories are kid relatable. I continue to strengthen this, often getting involved in playtime and activities with my kids and their friends. I hope to get a glimpse into their worlds, and tap into my inner child. We recently made bird feeders with ice cream cones, peanut butter, and bird seed. It was messy and fun! The most rewarding part about writing for a young audience is the possibility of readers seeing themselves in my stories. I share all my stories with my kids, and the ultimate reward comes from seeing their excitement and hearing their comments.
Little Thoughts Press: Which kid-lit authors and books were your favorites growing up?
Steena Hernandez: I loved Judy Blume books. I also enjoyed The Boxcar Children and Ramona Quimby books. It wasn’t until later that I read The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros that I felt a deeper connection to the characters in a story.
Little Thoughts Press: And what about today? Any kid-lit writers you love and want to shout out?
Steena Hernandez: There are so many amazing authors who I love and admire in the kidlit community! Shout out to Jennifer Torres, who was my wonderful Las Musas mentor. Also, much love to ALL of my critique partners, Group Pono, and WOFs (Write On, Friends), for being my rock and my people.
Little Thoughts Press: What advice would you give to young writers?
Steena Hernandez: I’ve experienced the ups and downs of this industry. It’s not easy to query a story that you’ve poured your heart into, only to receive a rejection from an agent or editor. However, I would say anything is possible if you just don’t give up. Keep writing. Keep learning. Keep GOING! Join a critique group, SCBWI, and get active in the writing community on social media. And most importantly, READ. Knowing what books are being published in the current market is invaluable. Last year, I wrote down titles of all the books I read in a notebook. By the end of 2022, I had read 427 picture books! It was rewarding to see my progress on paper. This year I’m active in the Goodreads Reading Challenge to keep track.
Little Thoughts Press: Is there anything else you wish I had asked? Any upcoming projects, publications, or other news you'd like to share?
Steena Hernandez: In the summer of 2021, I entered the Sun Write Fun contest hosted by the wonderful author Karen Greenwald. Although I didn’t win, I’ll never forget Karen’s encouraging words suggesting I turn my piece into a full picture book. I took her advice, and kept going with it. I recently announced that story as my debut picture book, LUPITA’S BROWN BALLET SLIPPERS, set to publish in the fall of 2024 with Beaming Books. I’m grateful for my agent, Lynnette Novak, and editor, Elizabeth Schleisman, for believing in the story. I’m looking forward to this part of my journey. Thank you so much for having me on your blog. It’s been such an honor to be a part of your wonderful publication.