Written by Holly M. LaPrade • Contributed photographs
Thirty-nine years after it was originally written, the children’s book “Nobody Notices Bently” will make its grand debut; fulfilling local author Deborah Zamperini Hewins’s life-long dream of publishing her story.
The foundation for the dream was initially laid in 1977, when Hewins was required to write a children’s book as a project during her senior year of high school. Hewins received an A on the assignment, and her teacher liked her story enough to strongly suggest she look into publishing it.
Although Hewins considered the idea at the time, she instead put the manuscript aside and continued on with her life. She went on to college, got married, had two children and numerous pets along the way; and ultimately devoted many wonderful years to her family.
As the years went by, Hewins often thought of her cherished teenage project and imagined publishing it someday. But her life went on its course for more than three decades before she decided it was time to put her dream into motion.
About five years ago, Hewins, who had since relocated to Canaan, decided to pull the book from her personal archives and begin the publishing process. The written portion of the book was complete, but she wanted to find someone special to bring her words to life through illustration.
From that point, she then began a close collaboration with aspiring artist and fellow Canaan resident Nicholas Lewis. The pair worked on the project intermittently over the course of several years.
“I wanted to control the illustration, and I asked him to help me bring the book to life,” Hewins said of her partnership with Lewis.
During a recent interview from her home, Hewins confessed that the entire process of getting her manuscript into published form and onto local bookshelves has been a learning experience. Since this is her first book, she was not familiar with the publishing process. After extensively researching the topic she ultimately decided to publish the book herself.
The end result is a heartwarming and colorful book that grabs your attention when compared to the average children’s book. The book’s vibrant images seem to jump out from the page, which is accomplished by Lewis’s use of Crayola brand watercolors to illustrate the book’s pages.
“Nobody Notices Bently” is also Lewis’ first venture into the genre of children’s book illustration. When Hewins initially approached him about the opportunity to illustrate her book, he eagerly accepted the offer.
Although the book was written nearly four decades ago, the message contained within is timeless. With a blade of grass named Bently as the main character, the book “encourages young readers to have self-confidence and inspires them to appreciate the wonders of nature,” Hewins explained.
Hewins has always had a deep appreciation for the beauty of nature. She grew up in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, where she spent a great deal of her childhood outdoors in the natural surroundings of the location.
“It is an area renowned for its beautiful scenery and outdoor adventures, so it was only fitting that when I was required to write a children’s book as an assignment, nature would play an essential role,” Hewins said.
Hewins explained that Lewis used the Berkshires as the background setting for the book. He shows many distinct landmarks throughout its pages — including the Berkshires’ famed mountains as well as the well-known covered bridge in Hewins’ childhood home of Sheffield, Massachusetts.
Coincidentally, Lewis also spent his formative years in Sheffield, and also attended Mount Everett Regional High School just as Hewins did.
Animals also play a meaningful role in Hewins book. The pets (and children) of both Lewis and Hewins are incorporated as characters throughout the book.
According to Hewins, her book allows parents to teach their children many valuable life lessons and will inspire self-confidence and personal growth.
As Hewins explains it, Bently is “just a blade of grass — or so he thinks.” Throughout the book Bently, as he takes a walk through the country with his friends Timothy and Ladybug, looks down on himself and compares himself unfavorably to other wonders in nature. This negative thinking makes Bently feel that life is disappointing and hopeless.
“Children will relate to Bently, who can be down on himself at times,” Hewins writes on the book’s website. “Like many children in our society, he feels he is plain and ordinary, and does not appreciate his own attributes. He looks at the greatest strengths of those around him and wonders: why can’t I be more like them? He wishes people would pay more attention to him and praise him for qualities he imagines and wishes he might have.”
As the book progresses, Bently eventually learns that, although he may not have the same strengths as other things in nature, grass serves many useful, wonderful and important purposes. Bently learns to accept himself for who he is, and even more importantly, he begins to see his own strengths.
“As their outing continues, his friends help him realize he is much more than ‘just’ a blade of grass; he is a wonderful, glorious, fabulous blade of grass,” Hewins writes on the book’s back cover.
“Your child will learn about individuality, generosity, gratitude, creativity, friendship, nature, and to be true to oneself,” she continued. “Alongside Bently, your child will learn to appreciate others for who they are and will gain confidence in themselves. After all, we are all special in our own way.”
According to Hewins, “Nobody Notices Bently” is written with an easy vocabulary and is ideal for children between the ages of 0 and 6. “When younger, your child will understand and follow the words that you read,” she said. “As your child grows, he or she will be able to sound out the words and enjoy reading the book on their own.”
In order to celebrate their recently published book, Hewins and Lewis held a debut book signing on July 17 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.
Their next book signing event to promote the book will be held in September at the Douglas Library in North Canaan. The date has not yet been announced, but those interested in attending may contact the library at (860) 824-7863.
Readers seeking more information about the book, upcoming events and photographs may also visit the book’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/bentlydzh.