Meet Janet Heller, Author of How the Moon Regained Her Shape and Traffic Stop
What inspired you to become an author?
My mother read me many stories and poems when I was a child. I especially liked the poetry of Robert Louis Stevenson and the Just So Stories of Rudyard Kipling. Also, I had wonderful teachers in elementary school and high school who encouraged me to write. My first grade teacher, Mrs. Mesias, liked one of my poems so much that she dittoed it for the whole class. That was my first publication. My fourth grade teacher, Marjorie Schroeder, and my high school teachers, Zelma May Oole, Margaret Sturr, and Barbara Gensler, enjoyed my writing and urged me to write more. I also read biographies of women writers like Edna St. Vincent Millay, which inspired me.
How did you come up with the idea for your book How the Moon Regained Her Shape?
I was frequently bullied in elementary school. I did not know what to do about verbal insults, so I suffered for many years. I wrote my fiction picture book How the Moon Regained Her Shape (Sylvan Dell, 2006) to help other children cope with bullying. Also, I was doing research about the Native American writer Judith Minty, and I was reading many Native American legends to understand the culture. I wanted to write my own legend about bullying and about the moon's phases, using the style of a Native American folktale.
You have also written a book of poetry called Traffic Stop. What is the inspiration behind the book title?
The title derives from the first poem in the collection, Traffic Stop in January. In 2003, a policeman gave me a ticket for turning left on a yellow arrow when I was driving to work at Western Michigan University. When I talked back to the officer, he detained me long enough to make me very late for my teaching job. However, my students had all waited and were very supportive. I learned a lot from this incident, and it is also linked to my activism and my lifelong refusal to grovel before authority figures.
You have won numerous awards for your book How the Moon Regained Her Shape, including the Book Sense Pick in 2006, a Benjamin Franklin Award in 2007, a Children’s Choices for 2007 award, and a Gold Medal in the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards for 2007. The book was also a finalist for the Oregon Reading Association’s 2009 Patricia Gallagher Picture Book Award. What does this mean to you as an author?
I was delighted to win these awards with my illustrator Ben Hodson. Because of these honors, How the Moon Regained Her Shape has sold well, and I have been invited to speak at schools, libraries, bookstores, and conferences. I was also pleased that I had been able to convert a painful negative experience into a constructive creative effort that could help many children and adults to understand and recover from bullying.
What do you hope children will learn from How the Moon Regained Her Shape?
I hope that children will learn 1) that they need to tell friends and adults when bullying occurs, 2) that a bully's insults are seldom true, 3) that children will recover from abuse, and 4) that we can be friends with people who are different from us. Bullying thrives in secrecy, and most kids feel intimidated by abuse. Many children need the help of friends and adults to stop bullying and to recover from the loss of trust and self-esteem that such harassment causes. Furthermore, children don't have to believe the repeated insults of bullies. In general, our society needs to make clear that bullying cannot be tolerated in a multicultural society. Our differences make us unique and wonderful. All people deserve respect and support from their community.
Are you currently working on any more books?
Yes, I'm working on a memoir and a collection of poems based on the people and events in the Bible. I'm also revising some one-act plays. I have another book of poems entitled Folk Concert forthcoming from Anaphora Literary Press. I have also written ten more books for children, and I’m looking for publishers.
You can find out more about Janet Heller and her books by visiting www.redroom.com.
Stacie Theis / firstname.lastname@example.org / copyright 2012