New kids book pays tribute to Africa trips

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At right, Millstadt author Natalie Heberlie takes a moment out of one of her trips to Africa to pose with a member of Team Lioness, the all-women ranger group that inspired her book.

A Millstadt health care worker with a passion for travel set out on her next big adventure: to write a children’s tale of female empowerment, perseverance and the importance of animal conservation. 

In “Lion Protector,” author Natalie Heberlie tells the story of young Purity, who dreams of becoming a wildlife ranger to track down poachers in Kenya. She is told the ranger profession is for men only, but does not let that stop her from working toward her ultimate aspiration. 

Purity is inspired by the women of Team Lioness, the first all-female anti-poaching ranger group in Kenya. The group is made up of members of the Maasai tribe, who Heberlie has worked with on three different trips. 

In fact, Purity the character is inspired by a real-life member of Team Lioness who, along with the other seven women in the group, are defying patriarchal standards. 

“I was fortunate to go on foot patrol with Team Lioness on my last visit to Kenya. It was amazing to walk with such strong, brave women in the wild bush,” Heberlie said. “When I visited Purity’s village, she had tears in her eyes as she introduced me and told her community about the children’s book that would feature her as the main character.” 

As a health care worker, Heberlie was new to the world of being a children’s author. By partnering with artist Kenzie Wolk of Ste. Genevieve, Mo., the two were able to make “Lion Protector” jump from an idea in Heberlie’s head onto the pages. 

Heberlie is a Ste. Genevieve native.

“When I was thinking of Kenya in November 2020 and their struggles due to COVID, I had an idea to write a book,” Heberlie said, later adding, “I knew nothing about writing and illustrating a book when I had the idea, but I did know for certain that Kenzie was an amazing artist and I just knew I wanted her to be involved in the project. She was able to take my personal photographs from Kenya and turn them into art for the book.” 

In order to donate proceeds to Team Lioness, Heberlie is self-publishing the book. 

“I want Team Lioness to thrive so they can continue their efforts in conservation, community education and animal protection,” Heberlie said. “Team Lioness is funded by donations. The drive for writing and publishing this book is to be able to donate the proceeds to Team Lioness’s program.” 

To pre-order the book, check out its Kickstarter campaign by clicking here.

The campaign begins Wednesday, Sept. 8 and runs through Sept. 29.

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