The real inspiration behind 'The Luca Stories'

Friday, July 25, 2003

When Jan Thies died in March at age 60, Serenda Jenks lost both a good friend and the inspiration for her book: "Dancing Heart: The Luca Stories."

"Dancing Heart: The Luca Stories" is a children's book about a disabled heroine who takes on the challenges life presents her -- her parents' divorce, her mother's remarriage, a move, making new friends -- with courage and determination.

Thies had had polio since she was 2, and one year was the poster child for the March of Dimes. "Her mother made her get in there and root with the other kids and didn't cater to her disability," Jenks said. "She tried to be as independent as she could be."

Thies grew up to become the owner of two businesses and in Poplar Bluff, Mo., was secretary for the Hump Pilots Association, the group of World War II pilots who flew dangerous missions over "The Hump" between India and China.

"I would forget that she was disabled, even though she walked with a limp," Jenks says. "I just forgot. She was just a normal person."

Jenks, a pastoral counselor, co-wrote the book. Jenks will sign copies and talk about the book from 4 to 8 p.m. today at Hastings in the Town Plaza Shopping Center.

"Dancing Heart: The Luca Stories" was published in 2001 but is still selling well at Hastings stores, Cape Girardeau store manager Chris Jenkerson says.

A few years ago, Jenks and co-author Ann Puryear were in Santa Fe, N.M., where they spent the night at the home of Charlotte Berney, author of the book "Fundamentals of Hawaiian Mysticism." After her guests heard sounds in the night, Berney told them the house had a ghost named Luca.

On the drive home, the two began imagining a book about a little girl named Luca.

"The book just kind of wrote itself," Jenks said in an interview from her home in Fairdealing, Mo., a small town between Poplar Bluff and Doniphan.

In the book, Luca's Native American grandmother weaves a blanket in honor of Luca's birth. The blanket is a symbol for Luca's life and how it is formed by the choices she makes.

"Each choice is like choosing a colored string in a blanket, and her life is a result of those choices," Jenks said.

"... It's very empowering for children to realize they are responsible for their choices. Your choices may not be great, but you make the choice."

Other Luca books are planned.

Jenks is named for her great-grandmother, who was born on the day news arrived that Lee had surrendered to Grant. Jenks' grandmother is named Serenda, too.

Jenks is the former president of the Independent Living Center in Poplar Bluff. When Thies' health began failing, friends talked her into getting a scooter, but Thies didn't like it because she felt she was giving up some of her independence, Jenks said.

"I always felt a little ashamed of myself because I had all my facilities, I could walk. I hadn't done near the things she had done, and it was so much harder for her to do them," she said.

"She was a pleasure and delight to know. I loved and treasured her."

sblackwell@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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