BOOK BEAT Naples Sun Times January 17-23, 2007
by Philip K. Jason
Perched in a display bookcase in the media center of Manatee Elementary School out on Route 41 East are several of Sheila Collins’ books. They are only there because the school principle suggested that the modest Sheila let others know of her accomplishments. The same bookcase holds books created by students in the school with her encouragement. Sheila and these students are readers and writers together.
Sheila, born in Abbeville, Louisiana, is an authentic Cajun. Her mother’s and her father’s lineage both trace back to Acadie in Canada. As a young girl, Sheila grew up proud of her Cajun culture. In Louisiana, Sheila taught the lower grades for twenty years and developed a love for children’s literature. That passion for children’s literature, combined with her Cajun Pride, motivated her to rewrite cherished fairy tales with a Cajun twist. These fairy tales were designed to teach younger children French, as well as to develop Cajun pride.
Sheila didn’t start her writing career until she retired from teaching in 1989. In late 1993, as Sheila Hébert-Collins, she published her first Cajun Fairy Tale. It was Jolie Blonde and the Three Héberts (pronounced A-Bears), a Cajun Goldilocks. By 1996, this fanciful writer she had published four books and had visited over 120 schools and many public libraries in Louisiana, reading her Cajun fairy tales and promoting cultural pride. Some of these early titles were first privately published, but later brought out by Pelican Publishing – a small trade publisher in Gretna, Louisiana. Other Collins titles are John-Paul Hébert Was There; ’T Pousette Et ’t Poulette: A Cajun Hansel and Gretel; Petite Rouge: A Cajun Twist to an Old Tale (Little Red Riding Hood, of course); Les Trois Cochons (her Cajun take on the Three Little Pigs), and Cendrillon: A Cajun Cinderella.
Sheila’s name appears on the Louisiana State Artist Roster as an author and Cajun storyteller. She has made presentations for the Louisiana Reading Association’s local and state conventions. She has also made presentations for the Florida Association of Media Educators, Lee County Reading Festival, Naples Press Club Authors and Books Festival, International Reading Association, and Florida Gulf Coast University. She has continued to visit schools in Southeast Region and libraries throughout Louisiana and Florida.
In 2000, Sheila became certified in library science, and by 2002, she was working as a media specialist at Manatee Elementary. Working in such a culturally diversified school has given her more cultures to learn about and more reasons to promote cultural pride. This is exactly what she encourages students to do – to create variations of popular children’s stories and fairy tales through the lens of their own cultures. If Sheila can inform and entertain with Jacques et la Canne a Sucre: A Cajun Jack and the Beanstalk and Blanchette et les Sept Petits Cajuns: A Cajun Snow White, young writers can take the hint and retell these and other tales in ways that celebrate their own cultural heritage. In fact, she encouraged the third-graders to collaborate on a “Florida Snow White,” whom they named Tan Girl! Because the students are an inspiration to her, Sheila dedicated one of her recent books to Manatee Elementary and its students.
Several of Sheila’s children’s tales are available in audio cassette versions. These recordings testify to her great abilities as a story-teller – a compelling, distinctive voice fully adept at reaching her young audience.
Sheila Hébert-Collins has two manuscripts ready to go. One is a poem modeled on “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” and the other is a story modeled on “The City Mouse and the Country Mouse.” In the latter, readers will learn not only some French vocabulary, but some Spanish as well.
To invite this lively author-storyteller to your school or special event, see the contact information on her website: sheilahebertcollins.com.
Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy. A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club. Send him your book news at firstname.lastname@example.org.