Cromwell Author Turns His Love Story Into Children’s Book Series
- Article written by Cassandra Day -
At the heart of a series of children’s books lies a 38-year love story between a real-life grasshopper and a bumble bee.
Children’s book author Bill Denert — with inspiration, encouragement and “field work” by his wife of 35 years, Donna — is working on his third “Tales From the Little Valley,” which follows the adventures of lively little insects with big personalities.
He also illustrates the books aimed at teaching preschoolers about the creatures that they may at first fear or scamper from, as he incorporates math lessons and curious facts that even some adults may not know. “I’m a firm believer in Crayola pencils,” said Bill Denert, gesturing toward a clear vase on his kitchen table — his writing “station” — filled with sharp colored pencils.
“It started off because all these characters were Bill and I,” Donna Denert said. “He’s got the long legs,” so he’s the Grasshopper, she explained. For years, Bill Denert delighted his now grown daughters, and most recently his 2-year-old grandson and 5-month-old granddaughter, by relaying the fantastical world of bugs that occupy his mind.
“A couple of years ago up at the Cape, Donna suggested, ‘why don’t you write your bedtime stories down?’ So I did and in the course of a day, I wrote three of them,” said Bill Denert, who has been a familiar face to customers of the South Main Street Liberty Bank teller window in Middletown for going on 13 years. Nearly as quickly as Bill Denert wrote them, he self-published the books using Amazon’s Createspace, in March and July of last year. He’s working on his third now.
Bill’s coworkers are treated to a mini tale at the bank every time he enlivens an everyday task. Whatever little scene is buzzing through a mind that’s a perpetual font of inspiration makes its way onto the vault envelopes. “You put the cash slips in there and every day, I draw a story, and it could be Bee and Grasshopper sleeping by the fire, it could be Bee and Grasshopper going to a picnic,” he explained.
Bill Denert’s tales, of tiny insects with big personalities, are the very same he told his daughters while they were growing up. For three generations, the Denert family has carried on the tradition of an intimate telling of the simple yet rich adventures of creatures that crawl, buzz and hop.
It’s something Bill Denert gleaned from his father, who passed along an oral tradition. “My father was always a great storyteller. I used to look forward to him telling me bedtime stories when I was little and he would talk about Uncle Wiggly and Peter Rabbit and he would put a lot of imagination into it,” he recalled with a delighted laugh. Once the couple had their two girls, Bill Denert began to weave tales about his favorite couple. “I would invent my own,” explained the author, whose Evening Jazz radio show airs on Wesleyan University’s WESU-FM 88.1 Thursday nights.
He gives a “humanistic value” to his characters. “Whoever heard of a grasshopper rowing a boat?” “The Fishing Trip” and “Enid the Engineer & Skateboard Adventure” derive inspiration in ordinary things, like a trip to the beach, something he and Donna Denert enjoy doing in the warmer months, driving their 1978 cobalt-blue MG convertible down to the Shoreline. That car, a persnickety one with electrical challenges, makes its appearance in the books. In “A Trip to the Beach,” a third in the series, Bill Denert drew little bottles of suntan lotion — SPF 30, naturally — with Grasshopper, in little red boots, motoring along. Like a lady, Bee sits in the back seat under the shade of a rainbow umbrella, her pink wings vibrating in the wind.
“Three years ago, both my girls and my wife started bugging me to write these things down,” he said about the characters he’s been drawing for three decades. “Thirty years worth of bugging him to get the stories done,” Donna Denert interjected in her singsong voice. “That’s why I’m a pest.”
One of his illustrations shows Mother Grasshopper in her tiny white chef’s hat taking a fresh-baked pie from the oven. In a queue stand an ant with a plate, a beetle holding a fork, Bee buzzing overhead and a many-sectioned caterpillar hopefully (and hungrily) thinking, “Me, too?”
The couple keeps close a close eye on nature — and the world of industrious critters that help pollinate them — by planting a wide variety of flowers and herbs in an English garden. Donna Denert, who works part time for the city of Middletown as a public health nurse, started an herbal garden with echinacea, butterfly weed, bee balm and other plants from which she makes potpourri. Outside, in a shed in the backyard, the scent of drying lavender and juniper fill the air when she opens the door. Each flower attracts different insects, a variety as large as the array of herbals she grows. Nearly all those little visitors charm the couple. However, there is one type of tiny outdoor creature that Bill Denert is adamant about not writing about — spiders. But that doesn’t stop his wife from sharing her arachnid encounters, and hoping that one day, her favorites will make an appearance in her husband’s books. Every encounter with an insect that Donna Denert has is shared by way of a story, many of which are accompanied by photographs — of a katydid, or a locust so big and scaly, she said, “He is big enough to say he’s a Tyrannosaurus!” Her absolute favorite — besides bees, that is — are spiders. That’s not to say she’s charmed by every one she meets. “We had a brown spider came out of stairs in the basement. He was so big! I looked at him and said, ‘Oh, my god, I’m afraid to jump over him because he’s going to jump after me.’ ... I was so scared, so I drew a picture of him on the stair and me, waving a little white flag, ‘I surrender!’” Each time Donna Denert suggests her husband write a book about the spiders, he pooh-poohs the idea, reminding her about his coworker who is “scared to death” of arachnids. “I want him to write about Freddy the Spider. I don’t think he wants to do it, but (I say), ‘Bill, this is education. You don’t want to have a fiddle-back spider (a brown recluse) because that is going to scare children, but if you have a little tiny black and white spider, this is OK. He’s cute. I love him. He’s my buddy,” she said.