Orchard Park artist Heather Lynn Harris struggled with her feelings after learning her 24-year-old niece, Nicole Diane Miller-Harris, had died of a drug overdose last September in Los Angeles. More heartbreaking, she said, was watching her brother-in-law, sister-in-law and Nicole’s siblings explain the young woman’s passing to four nieces and a nephew – ages 2 to 6 – their aunt had left behind.
Harris hopes her new children’s book, “Clover and the Shooting Star,” sheds more light on such loss – for kids and adults.
“I didn’t want it to be sad. It’s really a book offering hope that those who we lose stay with us forever,” said Harris, 49, assistant professor of art communication at St. Bonaventure University.
Harris will launch the book and sign copies from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday at Chestnut Ridge Park Casino in Orchard Park. The gathering will include kids’ activities and visits by Clover the rabbit and his storybook friends. The book, which costs $10 and is published by Buffalo Heritage Press, also is available at cloverandtheshootingstar.com.
Harris, a Rochester native, is former co-owner of RedFish Art Studios & Gallery in East Aurora and sells her work at several Upstate New York art festivals. She and her husband, David Harris, who works at Fisher-Price, have three children, Hunter, 18, and twins, Hudson and Star, both 13.
“I really like art that tells stories," she said. "My art is very narrative.”
Buffalo Heritage also in 2014 published her first book, the “The Swing,” which she illustrated along with a Robert Lewis Stevenson poem “that was lost to this generation of children.” She is at work on two other children’s tales, including one with the working title, “Five Hungry Mice and a Box Full of Rice.”
Almost all children’s “board books” are made in China, Buffalo Heritage Publishing owner Marti Gorman said. “Clover and the and the Shooting Star” was produced in Western New York.
Q. Talk about the story. What is it about?
Clover looks up at the nighttime sky and he sees the most beautiful shooting star. And he goes to Mole and asks if he’s seen the shooting star. And Mole was in his house, deep in the earth, and did not see the shooting star. They run to Raccoon’s house and he didn’t see it because he had his head in an old tree looking for food. Clover goes to Possum and Possum says, “I didn’t see it because I was busy with my babies.” ... Finally, Clover’s crying because nobody has seen the shooting star and he hears the voice of Wise Owl above him. He says, “You’re wrong, somebody did see it, and he’s sharing the light with the whole world.” When you open the last page, you see the fireflies who have seen the shooting star and are carrying on the light of the shooting star so that no one would ever forget.
Read Nicole Diane Miller-Harris’ obituary here.
Q. How did Nicole’s parents and siblings explain Nicole’s passing to the youngest members?
They were too young to understand that. It was just that Nicole wasn’t with us, that she’d passed away.
Q. What did you say to your kids?
They were older, so we were truthful about it. At her memorial, the family was very honest about it as well and they wanted to let people know how much she struggled and was trying to get better, that it didn’t work and how devastated they were. They didn’t want anybody else to go through what they’d gone through so they were very open and honest with it. That’s really hard to do at a time like that. It was so impressive.
Q. How has the book been received by the family?
They paid me the greatest compliment when I presented books to them. We were gathered in memory of Nicole. Everybody opened the book together as a family and it delivered the therapeutic effect I was hoping it would. It was my way of saying, “I’m really sorry for your loss and I’m hoping I can give you some hope.”
Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon