Monday, September 8, 2008

Michigander Monday: Janet Ruth Heller

I'm pleased to welcome Janet Ruth Heller as this week's Michigander Monday!

Debbie: Tell us a little about yourself.

Janet: I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and am the oldest of five children. I am married and have 24 nieces and nephews. I attended Oberlin College and the University of Wisconsin for my B.A. with honors in English. I have an M.A. in English from the University of Wisconsin. I have a Ph.D. in English Language and Literature from the University of Chicago. I teach English and Women’s Studies courses at Western Michigan University. The University of Missouri Press published my scholarly book, Coleridge, Lamb, Hazlitt, and the Reader of Drama, in 1990. My fiction picture book for children, How the Moon Regained Her Shape (Sylvan Dell, 2006), concerns bullying. It won a Book Sense Pick in 2006, a 2007 Benjamin Franklin Award for Interior Design, a Gold Medal in the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards for 2007, and a Children’s Choices for 2007 selection. I am a founding mother of Primavera, a prize-winning women’s literary journal. I have published 150 poems in various journals and anthologies. I have also published fiction and creative nonfiction. I am currently President of the Michigan College English Association and a Past President of the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature. I enjoy hiking and bird-watching.

Debbie: And, of course, we want to know all about your book!

Janet: My fiction picture book is How the Moon Regained Her Shape (Sylvan Dell, hardback 2006, paperback 2007, Spanish version and audio version 2008). Themes of the book are friendship, self-esteem, and recovery from bullying. Influenced by Native American legends, the book tells the story of how the moon deals with nasty insults from the sun. After the sun bullies her, the moon is very hurt and disappears, much to the chagrin of rabbits who miss their moonlit romps and people who miss the beauty of moonlight. With the help of her many friends on earth, the moon regains her self-confidence a little more each day and eventually resumes her place in the sky as a bright full moon. The story helps children cope with bullies. An educational appendix gives scientific information about the moon.

The bullying in How the Moon Regained Her Shape is based on my own experiences in elementary school. Every day, one of the girls in my class would tell me during recess, “You’re so skinny that I can see right through you.” This went on for four years. I thought that there was something terribly wrong with my body, and I had trouble trusting other kids because of this bullying. I wrote How the Moon Regained Her Shape to help kids deal with this problem and to help parents, teachers, and counselors talk to kids about bullying.

Debbie: Other books, and projects on the horizon?

Janet: I have written a sequel to How the Moon Regained Her Shape. The sequel focuses on the sun, who learns that he will enjoy life more if he stops bullying people. I also have a story about a young bird who is looking for a good job. Another of my books is about birthday parties. Finally, I have a realistic story about a young Jewish girl who has conflict with her father. I have also written three books of poetry, and I am working on a memoir. I’m looking for publishers for all of these books.

Debbie: Upcoming appearances?

Janet: They are...

Tues. September 9, 2008 from 6 to 8 p.m.--Janet Heller discusses her award-winning book about bullying How the Moon Regained Her Shape at the Teachers' Night at Bookbug, a bookstore devoted to books for kids. The phone is 269-385-BUGS (2847), and the address is Oakwood Plaza, 3019 Oakland Drive , Kalamazoo, Michigan, 49008. The e-mail is

Fri. Oct. 10—Janet Heller reads her poetry at the annual conference of the Michigan College English Association at Baker College in Auburn Hills, MI.

Thurs. Oct. 16, 7 to 9 p.m.--Janet reads & signs her book How the Moon Regained Her Shape for Teacher's Night at the Barnes & Noble Booksellers at 6134 S. Westnedge Ave. in Portage, Michigan. The phone is 269-324-1433.

Tues. Oct. 21 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.--Janet Heller speaks for Alpha Delta Kappa, an organization of teachers, about her book How the Moon Regained Her Shape. This event is in Plainwell, Michigan.

December 7-8, 2008--Janet Heller speaks for the Michigan School Counselor Association Conference in the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Grand Rapids, Michigan, about "Using Stories and Nonfiction for Kids to Combat Bullying."

March 14-16, 2009--Janet Heller speaks for the Michigan Reading Association conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She will also autograph her award-winning book for kids, How the Moon Regained Her Shape.

Debbie: Your favorite place in Michigan? (or places, if you can't settle on just one!)

Janet: My husband and I visited Isle Royale one summer. We liked being so close to nature and seeing many birds and animals up close. Also, I love the campus of Michigan State University in May when all of the flowering trees are in bloom. I taught at MSU in 1998 and also go there for conferences of the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature.

Debbie: Favorite Michigan event or happening?

Janet: I like the annual Art Fair in early June in Kalamazoo. I also like the annual mid-May conferences of the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature in East Lansing and the Michigan Reading Association in Detroit or Grand Rapids.

Debbie: An interesting Michigan person we should all know about?

Janet: David Anderson is one of the founders of the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature. He is in his eighties but has the energy of someone half his age. He has published many books and articles about Midwestern writers, and he is a Midwestern writer himself. Someone should write a book about him.

Debbie: Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about our state.

Janet: Michigan is full of variety in its cities, its people, and its landscapes. We have everything from dunes to forests. We even have old haunted houses.

Debbie: Some residents of Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders; others Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally, are you a "Michigander" or a "Michiganian"?

Janet: I am a “Michiganian.”

Debbie: Thanks, Janet, for being this week's Michiganian Monday!

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