A frequently heard admonition for writers is to write what you know. Cheryl Weibye Wilke was influenced by her rural roots and small town upbringing in Eagle Bend and really does write what she knows. She has found success in creating stories and poems with a rural or nature focus for national magazines and more recently, books.
Cheryl’s latest project is a picture book combining haiku and narrative prose. Full Wolf Moon, A Lunar Calendar of the Anishanabe was illustrated by fellow Minnesotan, Ernest Gillman. This book, published by McDonald and Woodward Publishing Company, of Granville, Ohio, is for children ages 8-12, though adults will also appreciate how Native Americans came to name the full moons of the year.
With curiosity and respect for Native American tradition and culture, Cheryl works with the goal of inciting understanding and awe for nature in her readers.
“Every month of each season marked a significant event in nature. Whether it was time to pick wild strawberries, fish the great lakes and streams, or harvest corn, the Anishinabe understood that their existence hinged on the sustainability, or renewal, of Earth’s resources. Their survival hung in careful balance with nature. Behind each beautiful, full-moon name is the Anishinabe’s honor and respect for the animals, trees, weather and waters.”
Cheryl was inspired by her early years in Eagle Bend. Her fourth-grade teacher, Kay Nelson, was an early advocate of the whole-language approach to education. She combined English and American history in assignments that fascinated the budding writer.
Reading also topped the list of Cheryl’s favorite pastimes. She recalls a well-loved Christmas gift, a copy of The BIG BIG Story Book (copyrighted by the Whitman Publishing Company in 1938). “I snuggled into grandma’s evergreen-velvet mohair chair and proceeded to turn the pages. The magic that only words with illustrations can perform cast a lifelong desire to travel the world via paper wings.”
A children’s toy, the View-Master, and a projector set with “The Seven Wonders of the World” reels showed her that there was much to see on Earth. “Those pages of light on my bedroom wall also sparked a yearning to learn more.”
Cheryl’s mother, Frances “Fran” Weibye, was a stay-at-home mom when Cheryl and her two brothers, Steven and Rodney, were young. Later on she worked part-time in the store.
Cheryl’s younger brother, Rod, owns and lives in the house in which they grew up. “I appreciate the opportunity to actually ‘go back home.’ I can sit and drink coffee at the same kitchen counter where I ate breakfast each morning over four decades ago.”
In Grandpa’s Stories published at www.knowonder.com, Cheryl recalls her grandfather George Weibye’s stories about working in the store when he was young. “ ‘I remember when …’ Grandpa would begin. This was my cue. I’d scootch my chair closer to the kitchen table and put on my good listening ears. I loved it when grandpa told his stories—especially those about his growing up.”
But it’s Cheryl’s own memories of growing up in Eagle Bend that led her to become a writer and share her own stories.
“With one foot in the country and one in town, literally, I could see main street while looking out of a front window of my house and the neighbor’s pasture filled with cows and ponies while looking out of a back window!”
Wilke was inspired by this country connection. “I grew up loving the great outdoors and the four seasons in all of central Minnesota’s splendor. At age 5, I had an uncle, only eight years older, who had a great love for animals. So much that he convinced his parents to rent the farmer’s barn just beyond their downtown backyard to house his peep of chickens, Tammy the sled-pulling sheep, Laddie the dog, and a host of other barnyard animals. I believe it was those experiences that sparked my lifelong appreciation for Mother Nature and her critters.”
Cheryl graduated from Eagle Bend High School, attended Moorhead State University, and has benefited from writing classes offered at the Loft Literary Center. Having lived in suburban Minneapolis her entire adult life, she’s a Minnesotan through and through. Though inspired by those early View-Master images, she said, “I have never left Minnesota for longer than three consecutive weeks.”
With Christiana now in her teen years, Cheryl may need to once again adjust her genre. Next up: sci-fi for young adults?