The Life of Ruth Heller
Ruth Heller was born in Winnipeg , Manitoba, Canada, in 1924. She was interested in art as far back as she could remember. Like many children today, she enjoyed coloring, cutting and pasting, and drawing. After she finished her studies, she became a designer and illustrator. It was on a visit to an aquarium to research a coloring book on tropical fish she was designing that she got her first idea for a children’s book.
A strange-looking shape was floating in one of the tanks. It turned out to be the egg sac of a dogfish shark. This got Ms Heller thinking about other animals that laid eggs. As she read more about them and saw their pictures, she was beginning to visualize colors, shapes, and compositions, and she realized she had acquired enough information to write a book. That book became Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones, which was published in 1981.
Writing and illustrating a book is one thing. Getting it published is another. In those days picture books just weren’t being published on nonfiction subjects. It was a new idea. Ruth Heller was a pioneer in this respect, as were a few others, such as Gail Gibbons. Until these ladies and a few others came along, children’s books on nonfiction subjects were pretty boring –more like old textbooks.
Editors thought that the children who would enjoy the pictures would be too young to absorb the information and that children old enough to understand the information would think the pictures were too young for them. Finally an editor was willing to take a chance, and the rest is history. Today we can’t imagine a bookstore without beautifully illustrated books about science, nature, history, and other subjects that interest children.
Most of Ruth Heller’s children’s books are written in rhymes that explain the pictures or urge the reader to interact with the pictures. The How to Hide a…. series challenges children to find the creatures hidden in their habitats. Another popular series deals with parts of speech. All of these books are art masterpieces in themselves. As with all great illustrations, they appeal to adults reading to children as much as to the children themselves.
Ruth says she wants each page to be a surprise. She tries not to repeat herself. She researches her subjects by taking pictures at the zoo, keeping a file of photographs, and reading loads of magazines and books. Instead of just imagining creatures and objects in her head, she needs to have either the object or its photograph in front of her as she works.
As you will see below, Ruth Heller also has designed coloring books for older children, teens, and adults to enjoy. You don’t have to stop using coloring books for painting and coloring just because you grow up. Amazon also has some great sets of colored pencils and markers to fill in those lines with.
If you’ve not yet read any of Heller’s books, you’ve a real visual treat to look forward to. Any elementary teacher unfamiliar with her books is missing some great science and language arts resources. And any child not yet exposed to these books is deprived of a wonderful way to learn more about some of God’s most interesting creatures, and a unique way to learn the parts of speech. I highly recommend these books. Some may be out of print but still available on Amazon. Here are the books.
The Books of Ruth Heller
Designs for Coloring:
Books in the Designs for Coloring series are made with high quality paper which is suitable for use with crayons, felt-tipped pens, water paints, pencils, or pastels. Some pictures might be suitable for framing or for transferring to a piece of embroidery, needlepoint, pottery, or mosaic. Pages aren’t numbered, but the books appear to be about the same size and the one I counted had 31 coloring pages. Each page is printed on only one side.
These books are complex enough to meet the needs of older children, teens, and adults. Designs may appear in more than one size on different pages so you can use them in different ways when they are complete. Click the link at the beginning of this topic to see all the other subjects available.
Stained Glass Designs for Coloring
Books in the Stained Glass coloring series are on high quality vellum which is suitable for use with either water-based or alcohol-based felt-tipped pens. Some pictures might be suitable for framing. Pages aren’t numbered, but the books appear to be about the same size and the one I counted had 16 coloring pages. Each page is printed on only one side. Older children, teens, and adults will all enjoy coloring in these books. Some available titles in the Stained Glass Designs for Coloring Series are Snowflakes; Geometrics; and Flowers. Follow this link to purchase books in the Stained Glass Series on Amazon
The How to Hide a …… Series
In the How to Hide a …. series, Heller shows each creature distinctly on one two-page pictorial spread with some often rhyming identifying words. In the next two-page spread, one has to look very hard to find the creature camouflaged in its habitat. I was amazed to see how that parakeet hid.
Each two-page spread is a work of art accompanied by Heller’s clever poetry that names each creature while showing how it hides itself for protection. If reading this to a small child, you can make a game of finding the hidden insects, birds, and other creatures who walk, swim, creep, or hop. These are the titles: How to Hide a Butterfly and Other Insects; How to Hide a Crocodile and other Reptiles; How to Hide a Meadow Frog and Other Amphibians; How to Hide a Parakeet and Other Birds; and How to Hide an Octopus and Other Sea Creatures. Even I had trouble finding some of the hiding camouflaged animals. Purchase books in this series on Amazon through this link.
Even if no one at your house wants to learn the parts of speech and other interesting things about the English language, the books in the World of Language Series by Ruth Heller are worth the price for the art alone. These books not only teach the parts of speech in a painless way, but they also subtlety teach concepts and vocabulary through the gorgeous illustrations.
Recommendations as to the proper age to enjoy these books vary between Amazon, the publisher, and librarians. People of any age would pour over the illustrations. The vocabulary would be over the heads of most first and many second and third graders. Primary age children today might not have the language and grammatical background yet to completely understand the books even if they could read them. I can testify as a former English teacher that many high school students don’t know enough terminology to grasp all the explanations.
Yet if one needs to learn the parts of speech, these books will be more effective with almost any age than a grammar text or handbook. Every rule and concept is illustrated in a way not easily forgotten, and the explanations are simple, rhythmic, and developed in the illustrations, which are sometimes stories in themselves.
I highly recommend these books to any child of school age. If they don’t learn everything on the first read through, eventually they will catch on through repetition. These books are most effective when read aloud the first time. They should be in every fourth to sixth grade class library for easy reference when a student is having trouble. They should also be in every home with children. Get all the books. You won’t be sorry.
Merry-Go-Round: A Book About Nouns. Heller explains in her rhyming text about the various kinds of nouns — common, proper, abstract, concrete, and compound. She explains also how to make them plural. She adds that nouns occur soon after a determiner (she explains what a determiner is very simply), and gives examples. All her explanations are illustrated in vivid color. Although a three-year-old would love looking at the pictures, I’d think children might not understand all the grammatical concepts until they are about seven.
A Cache of Jewels and Other Collective Nouns. Collective nouns are nouns that include a collection of things, such as “herd” or “flock.” Heller introduces and illustrates some that are familiar and many that are not commonly known. You might even learn some new words yourself. I did.
Fantastic! Wow! and Unreal!: A Book About Interjections and Conjunctions: This book focuses on how to use and identify interjections and conjunctions in a number of different contexts. The bold illustrations enhance the meaning of the rhymed text.
Up, Up, and Way: A Book About Adverbs. This book focuses on how to use and identify adverbs in a number of different contexts. These bold illustrations show examples of the meaning of the rhymed text. Students will learn how to compare adjectives and not to use double negatives.
One of my favorite two-page spreads shows a bride and groom with this quote: To Recognize an ADVERB, sometimes you must be clever, because it may be positive like YES, INDEED, FOREVER… That is a concept I believe in, and I’ve been married over fifty years to prove it.
Behind the Mask: A Book About Prepositions. Ruth Heller helps to make parts of speech understandable with her her simple explanations accompanied by her bold, colorful illustrations and her rhyming text. In this book she explores propositions and how to properly use them. She also gives examples of how they are sometimes used improperly. Most people learn prepositions by hearing others use them repeatedly. It’s hard to explain words like “with,””to,” “for,” and”of” unless you have heard them in context many times. Heller’s pictures help to explain them. This book would help not only English-speaking children, but also anyone trying to learn English as a second language.
World of Nature Series
Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones: This is Ruth Heller’s first book for children. In this book, children learn that not only birds like chickens lay eggs, but also reptiles, amphibians, spiders, insects, fish and other sea creatures, and even a couple of very unusual mammals. Children as young as three will not only discover where their eggs come from, but also will meet some other creatures they may not have heard of . One thing I love about Ruth Heller is that she doesn’t use an obviously controlled vocabulary, and children will learn new words in her books. A larger speaking vocabulary will lead to a larger reading vocabulary.
The Reason for a Flower: Ruth Heller explains through her simple rhyming text and gorgeous illustrations how flowers produce seeds and fruit after their kind and how they help and are pollinated by the bees and other insects. Students will see that parts of nature work together for the good of all. Flowers and pollinators depend upon each other, and the flowers have a purpose other than just looking beautiful. For elementary students.