Q&A - Ruth Heller - A Paperstar ProfileHow did you become interested in writing books for children? I loved reading to my own children, and when they started school, I became the P.T.A. library chairman. I was the one who got to pick and choose and spend a nice fat budget for the elementary school library. I feel as though I’ve been surrounded by children’s books for years. I suppose this and my strong art background are what prompted my trying to write. What is the biggest influence in your style of writing, and how has it changed since you first began? Hillaire Belloc, Gilbert and Sullivan, Edward Lear—I grew up reading all of them. I love their rhythm, and I loved reading Dr. Seuss to my children. No question, these were my influences. I think I’ve become wordier, not quite as minimal and succinct as I used to be. What made you decide to write a series on the parts of speech? Take a peek at the back end paper of the hardcover edition of A Cache of Jewels. You’ll see that I committed myself, in print, to writing a book for each part of speech. Here I am, ten years later, thankfully completing the very last book in this series. It will be published in 1998. Do you begin with the words or pictures when you are developing a book? How does the second part come together? The first step is to decide what I am going to say on each page. Then I can begin to visualize my illustrations. The words dictate what the illustration will be, but that still gives me many options. Sometimes the two come together easily, sometimes not. If not, I pursue new research material until something clicks. Did you learn anything new about the parts of speech while writing these books? I learned many things I had forgotten, and some new information and rules that I had never known. I also learned that the textbooks that I used for research were difficult to understand and somewhat boring, and that I am guilty of frequent misuse of the English language. How do you choose the images in your book? An art teacher once told me to fall in love with whatever I was drawing. So I choose images that I love: candy, ice cream, butterflies, sea creatures, carousels, jewels, etc.
|Age Range:||5 - 10 Years|
About the Author
After receiving a fine arts degree from the University of California at Berkeley and completing two years of graduate work in design at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, Ruth Heller (1923-2004) began her career designing wrapping paper, cocktail napkins, greeting cards, and coloring books. After five years of rejection and one complete revision, Heller's first book, Chickens Aren't the Only Ones, about egg-laying animals, was published in 1981. It was so successful that the sequel, and second book to be published, Animals Born Alive And Well (1982), about mammals, quickly followed. In 1983 and 1984, her third and fourth titles, The Reason For A Flower (about plants that have seeds and flowers) and Plants That Never Ever Bloom (about plants that do not) were published.
She then began work on a collection of six books, the How To Hide series on camouflage and the magic of this phenomenon in nature, which covered the entire animal kingdom insects, birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and sea creatures. The next collection of books became a five-volume series on parts of speech: A Cache of Jewels and Other Collective Nouns; Kites Sail High: A Book About Verbs; Many Luscious Lollipops: A Book About Adjectives; Merry-Go-Round: A Book About Nouns; and Up, Up and Away: A Book About Adverbs. She also wrote and illustrated the unique and fascinating book Color, a charming and instructive guide to how art goes through the four color printing process.
Among the notable people who have had an influence on Heller's writing have been: Ogden Nash, Gilbert and Sullivan, Edward Lear, Hilaire Belloc, and Dr. Seuss. Heller says of her work, "All my books are nonfiction picture books in rhyme. I find writing in rhyme enjoyable and challenging, and I think it is an easy way for children to learn new facts and acquire a sophisticated vocabulary. Children are not intimidated by big words. I try to make my writing succinct and allow the illustrations to convey as much information as possible."