While a young student at St. Rita School in Solon, former city resident James T. Janson recalled a childhood rooted in adventure – playing tag with friends, flying kites and exploring the outdoors.
It is those same adventures that Dr. Janson brought to life decades later on the pages of “Bartlett,” a novella set in Solon in 1960-1961 during the formation of the Mercury space program.
This marks the first book penned by Dr. Janson, now 73 and a resident of Savannah, Georgia.
“I have so many good memories of Solon,” said Dr. Janson, who earned a doctorate in art history from Case Western Reserve University in 1997. “That’s my roots.”
His parents moved to Solon in 1950 and stayed for 20 years. They lived on Linden Drive.
“It was fairly rural at the time,” he recalled, and “it allowed me to be a boy and have those adventures.”
Mr. Janson, who retired in 2019 from his role as a professor in art history and museum studies at the Savannah College of Art and Design, draws from his experiences while at St. Rita, and even models the characters in his book around former classmates.
“A lot of my classmates from St. Rita’s are in the book,” said Dr. Janson, whose career has been spent teaching art history and museum studies as well as working at a number of art museums nationwide. “I patterned major and minor characters after them,” but used fictitious last names.
“Bartlett” is a story of imagination and adventure, centering around high school freshman Elaine Shiver and her middle school aged friend Jimmy Dixon. Dr. Janson said the novella explores their collaboration on a class essay contest based upon the U.S. space program and ultimately brings forth the lesson that men and women can work successfully together toward a common goal.
Plot twists and a field mouse named “Bartlett” make for an entertaining book, which appeals to both young and old alike, he said.
Dr. Janson, who began writing his book about three and a half years ago, said of the process, “It was not easy, but the fact that I could write from my own experience and pattern some of the characters after the kids that I knew resulted in times where the writing would just flow.”
A fan of history and the explorers as well as the space program, Dr. Janson tied much of this into the pages of the book.
In the book, a classroom teacher introduces students to Nassau and the Mercury space team, similar to when he was a student at St. Rita, and “that becomes their heroes.”
The book’s title speaks to the middle name of American astronaut Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr., the second man and the first American to travel into space. In 1971, he walked on the moon.
“When Shepard went up into space, I remember in our classroom the monitor came on, and I outlined that experience in the book,” he said.
Available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other retail sites, “Bartlett” was released last month.
“The book has the adventure of the space program but romance and also the conflict between Elaine and her mother Mildred, which is a coming of age,” he said.
“It’s my first book,” Dr. Janson said. “Whether I have enough energy or time to do another, I don’t know.
“I’m basking in this one.”