Children’s book ‘Blanket of Stars’ is a collaboration with a purposeMore Info
South Egremont — Jana Laiz is a writer with a purpose: Her mission in life is to change the world, one book at a time. Her newest project—a collaboration with musician Sean Vernon—is “Blanket of Stars,” a lullaby book for new babies. Despite the seemingly innocuous subject of their children’s book, Laiz and Vernon are donating a portion of the proceeds from their book to RAICES (the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services), the organization at the border trying to reunite families. “We believe that mommies and daddies and babies need to be together and should not be separated,” said Laiz, who will be reading from her new book Saturday, Dec. 1, at 11 a.m. at the Lenox Library.
“Every time I write, there is a purpose,” Laiz explained in a recent interview. “To uplift, to educated, to inspire, to change minds … not simply to entertain,” she added. Laiz, the author of eight books, focuses on subjects about which she is passionate—ranging from climate change and refugees to equal rights and friendship—and she does so in an approachable way, not from a proverbial soapbox. “I’m an empath … I feel everybody’s pain,” she said. “It’s terrible.” Which, while delivered rather tongue-in-cheek, has a palpable take home message: “I hope my books inspire my readers to make a positive difference in the world.”
“Blanket of Stars” stems from equally valiant roots. Singer/songwriter/poet Vernon, who holds an MFA from Writers’ Workshop in Iowa City, specializes in setting poems to music. He was deeply entrenched in the making of a children’s album—including Thomas Dekker’s “Golden Slumbers,” Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Bed in Summer,” Christina Rosetti’s “Who Has Seen the Wind?” and his own “New Twinkle”—when he hit a series of wrinkles. He had written a beautiful guitar tune but he didn’t like the words. This, coupled with the fact that he is living with multiple sclerosis—a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system—threatened to bring his project to a halt. Ongoing health struggles plus Vernon’s status as a disabled musician (he is mostly wheelchair-bound) compromised his ability to physically access the recording studio. Laiz, a friend of many years, did not want his project to fall by the wayside and instead offered a great alternative: “Let’s have a crack at this and write it together,” she suggested. Soon after, completely out of the blue, a woman from Estonia wrote to Laiz and said, “I want to draw for you.” Such is the beginning of the pair’s collaboration with illustrator Anastasiia Kuusk, whose work Laiz calls at once “adorable and lush and very sweet.”
“Sean is an amazing musician [who] specializes in putting poetry to music,” explained Laiz of the two friends’ coming together. His settings include poets Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost and four Williams: Blake, Yeats, Wordsworth and Shakespeare. He has eight albums to his credit, two of which are his original songs, and his humorous essays have been published in Smithsonian, Backpacker and Notre Dame magazines. “Blanket of Stars” is his first book. It is published by Crow Flies Press—a local green and independent publishing company—and invites readers to join Little Bird, Little Fox and Little Bunny as they get ready for bed. Parents will enjoy lulling their little ones to sweet sleep with the lush illustrations and soothing lullabies, including the book’s veritable genesis: the four original poems Vernon endeavored to set to music. A CD of Vernon’s original music accompanies this vividly illustrated picture book.
Laiz is the inaugural writer-in-residence at Arrowhead in Pittsfield, the home of author Herman Melville, a position that has allowed her the amazing opportunity to write in Melville’s study while ingesting the view that inspired his great work, “Moby-Dick.” Her 2017 book “Billy Budd in the Breadbox” captures the special relationship between Melville and his granddaughter Eleanor. Laiz is the author of the triple award-winning novel “Weeping Under This Same Moon,” Moonbeam Silver Medal Winner “The Twelfth Stone” and “Elephants of the Tsunami.” She is the co-author of “A Free Woman On God’s Earth, The True Story of Elizabeth ‘Mumbet’ Freeman, The Slave Who Won Her Freedom,” “Thomas & Autumn” and and “Simon Says: Tails Told By the Red Lion Inn Ambassador.” A former refugee resettlement counselor and ESL teacher, Laiz believes that honoring diversity can change the world.
Saturday’s “Blanket of Stars” story hour will take place from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Lenox Library, 18 Main St. The event is sponsored by the Bookstore and the Lenox Library, and will feature fun for little ones and their parents.