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Spinning a yarn and doing it with love

De Pere author, Jenny Von Der Ruhr spotlights hand-knit mice and the magic of love in her picture book. Submitted photo

By Melanie Rossi

Contributing Writer

DE PERE – In her new children’s book, “Spin Me A Yarn: A Sweater’s Story”, De Pere resident Jenny Von Der Ruhr teaches that “doing something with love can elevate it into something special” — and nowhere is that theme more evident than through the process of creating the book itself.

Jenny Von Der Ruhr’s picture book, spotlighting hand-knit mice and the magic of love, is perfect for children, their parents and anyone in love with knitting.

Born in the Milwaukee area, Von Der Ruhr graduated from Marquette University with a degree in social work and moved to De Pere with her husband in 1999.

As a kid, Von Der Ruhr said, she always thought that writing children’s books would be her passion when she was older.

With her degree, however, she pushed her desire to the side, working for many years in her stable job as a social worker.

Only after staying home to raise her two daughters did the idea return to her to write her own book.

“We did a lot of reading together,” Von Der Ruhr said. “I read to them from the time they were infants. Even when they were ten and twelve, I still read a lot to them.”

While reading together with her daughters resparked her desire to write her own book, working as a library aide at Dickinson Elementary in De Pere truly reignited her passion. 

“I think I just really realized that stories are a really natural and delightful way to share ideas, thoughts and feelings about the world and relationships in a way that kids can really receive without adults being heavy-handed about lessons,” Von Der Ruhr said. “When you’re shelving books, you have a lot of extra time to make up these stories in your head.”

She worked at the school until the start of the pandemic, at which time she began to reevaluate what she wanted to accomplish in her life.

“I’m a knitter, so I do a lot of making, a lot of creating. I really just have this strong desire to create something and share it with the world. So I just tried to think, how can I incorporate my love of knitting — I love making people gifts, knitting for other people. How could I incorporate that into a story and kind of share that idea with kids — that when you do something, almost anything, if you do it with love, it really elevates it to something really special.”

To combine these two passions, Von Der Ruhr decided to write a children’s book that, rather than having drawings or paintings as the illustrations, instead used photographs of her own knitted creations.

In charge of both the story and the pictures, Von Der Ruhr faced some interesting challenges while trying to create the perfect combination.

“I actually wrote four different stories; this (the book published) is actually the fourth,” she said. “After I had written it, it was the one that had the most promise, so I just started focusing on this one. It’s funny because the characters in this one initially were birds…  but when I made the final decision that I was going to knit the characters rather than illustrate them in a different way, I felt like doing mice was going to be a lot more conducive to that process — and my daughter used to have mice as a pet, so we’re sort of fans of mice in this house.”

The next step for Von Der Ruhr after deciding on a story idea was choosing how to publish her work — while she wanted her story to be published, she also wanted the creative freedom to use her knitted mice as the characters, not drawings or paintings from outside illustrators.

Ultimately, Amazon was the publisher that gave her that freedom.

“Any place that I would have submitted, I discovered, people would be interested perhaps in the manuscript, but someone else would have been picked to illustrate… That was a bit of a dealbreaker for me because I had a vision and I knew what I wanted it to look like; I would knit the characters and photograph them myself,” she said.

“That’s when I stumbled across Amazon, and they would let you have complete creative freedom… For me, that was worth any other trade-off of being published by a big publishing company — I had creative license over the whole thing.”

With complete control, she added, “I found myself out of my depth quite a few times. I had to sometimes take a break from it. I’m really grateful I have a lot of talented friends who… were so willing to share their own areas of expertise with me without trying to change my vision.”

While navigating the intricacies of photography and the complexities of computer formatting, Von Der Ruhr noted that she “learned so much through the process” in ways she never would have otherwise been able to.

And as a result of what she was able to learn and accomplish using her own creative freedom and the help of those around her, Von Der Ruhr’s book is now available to buy on Amazon.

“Through this whole process, my goal was just to put it on Amazon so that I could buy some copies and have them here,” she said. “But I’ve had such support from family, friends and people in the community… I do think I’d like over the summer to really sit with the idea of, ‘how might I be able to share it with even more people?’ Either on social media or, because it has a tie-in with knitting, I’ve been talking to a knitting store in Appleton to see if they could put it in the store.”

For Von Der Ruhr, being able to reach out with her book to so many people and hear their reactions has been one of the best parts of the whole process.

“It has been the best feeling to hear when someone’s read the book, when they’ve really enjoyed looking at the photos, or if they’ve had a personal connection to it or felt inspired themselves in some way…  If I do it again, that’s going to be why,” she explained.

“Spin Me A Yarn: A Sweater’s Story” has been taking shape for nearly three years, involving a long, arduous process and Von Der Ruhr initially thought that this book would be a “one-off.”

She never would have imagined starting another book, but after taking some time away, she noted that she “missed the process.”

“Now that it’s done, I find myself thinking about maybe doing it again. I’m not sure if I would do it in the same format, but I think I might because it’s a very unique perspective on a children’s book…  So if I think that people are interested in it and appreciative of it, I think I would love to do another one — we’ll see,” Von Der Ruhr said.

Reaching out to readers, both parents and children, was her whole goal.

With a process that started while shelving books in a library and a desire to use storytelling as a means of teaching, Von Der Ruhr, through her work, led by example.

“Spin Me A Yarn: A Sweater’s Story” teaches readers — through the creative journey of its knitted mice and their sweaters — that “when you do something, if you do it with love, it elevates it into something even more special.”

With the love, care and dedication that she poured into her book, Von Der Ruhr and her work exemplify this theme to the highest degree.

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