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Janet Heller book honored by independent booksellers

Sept. 1, 2006

KALAMAZOO--A cooperative of independent booksellers has chosen a children's book written by a Western Michigan University adjunct professor as one of its picks for summer 2006.

Dr. Janet Ruth Heller's book, "How the Moon Regained Her Shape," was selected as a Book Sense Pick, a monthly and seasonal selection of eclectic new books chosen by independent booksellers. Book Sense is a national marketing campaign on behalf of the independent bookstores of America.

"This imaginative telling of a tale influenced by Native American customs and rituals on why the moon changes her shape couples with the scientific explanations and illustrations in the back of the book to teach some basic astronomy about the earth's nearest neighbor," writes Bob Spear of The Book Barn in Leavenworth, Kan., in support of its selection.

Among the things Heller has learned in becoming a published author is that persistence pays.

Heller, who teaches English and women's studies at WMU, says she got the idea for the book while doing a 1992 theater review for the Kalamazoo Gazette of a production featuring plays based on Native American legends. She enjoyed the production immensely and, when she got home, thought she could do something similar.

For centuries, human beings have used folklore to explain nature and celestial events. So she took a similar tack to explain the changing phases of the moon, while providing a life lesson for children. Colorfully illustrated by artist Ben Hodson, using southwest imagery, Heller's book tells how the moon, once round, full and proud of her gentle light, loses her self-confidence and disappears after being insulted by the sun.

The story is influenced by Heller's life experience. As a youngster, she moved from Green Bay, Wis., to Milwaukee and found her new school not to her liking. A tall, thin girl, she was constantly bullied.

"The kids were not very nice to me," Heller says. "There was one girl that used to tell me every day, 'You're so skinny, I can see right through you.' Today, I would take that as a compliment. But when I was 5 or 6 years old, when this was happening, I wouldn't let her see me cry, but I would go home and cry just about every single day."

Heller only told her mother what was happening. Her mother would try to console her with the "sticks and stones" saying, but the next day the bullying would begin again. Eventually, the family moved, and Heller found children at her new school much easier to get along with.

"In a way, my book is an attempt to rewrite a very painful part of my life, because I never really got help with this," she says. "It's also, to a certain degree, a tribute to friends of mine who have helped me when I've had difficult situations as an adult."

Heller wrote the book very quickly in 1992 after seeing the Native American theatrical production. She sent the manuscript to numerous publishers, finally giving up for a time. It took her 11 years of trying before a publisher accepted it in October 2004. It was the third children's book she had written, but the first one published, coming out in February.

"Perseverance is something that I've learned," she says. "After 11 years of sending it all over the place, this happened really fast."

Heller has been busy giving readings at libraries, bookstores, schools, conferences and book festivals. In October, she will attend the Great Lakes Booksellers Association conference in Dearborn, Mich., where she will staff the booth of her publisher, Sylvan Dell, and promote her book and the publisher's other titles. The local Barnes and Noble told her this spring that her book was one of the store's best sellers. It's also gotten some good reviews, Heller says, and has been the subject of several newspaper articles.

"It's been very well received and is doing quite well," she says.

Heller earned doctoral degree in English language and literature from the University of Chicago. She is a prolific writer of poetry and stories that have been published in a variety of magazines and journals. She is a founder and editor of Primavera, a literary magazine based in Chicago which publishes contemporary literature and artwork.

Heller's book is available locally at Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Kazoo Books and Michigan News Agency. It can also be purchased online by visiting www.sylvandellpublishing.com, amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com.

Related article
Heller's "How the Moon" is Children's Choice

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, (269) 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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