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Star Light, Star Bright

Clifton family's "laugh-friendly company" helps children through books and reading.

Clifton residents elena patrice, 37, and elizabeth sills, 40 — sisters who insist their initials and company name remain lower case to resemble their humble attitudes and history — started ee publishing and productions two years ago with hopes of doing what they enjoyed most: laughing while helping others.

"It's important to sit back and smell the roses," said patrice. "[It's important to] laugh at yourself." Their positive attitude toward life has helped them overcome many hardships.

A LOCAL success story, they began raising money for the Nana Star Foundation, which they founded, donating books to inner-city schools and reading to terminally ill children in hospitals across the nation. But what's behind the story is what makes their endeavors unique.

"It's about doing what you want and following your passions," said sills. "When you follow your passions, things will go your way."

The company, ee publishing and productions is a true family-run business: Grandmother Elizabeth Owens, 81, is the creator; her daughter Linda Saker is an illustrator; and granddaughters elizabeth sills and elena patrice are co-writers.

Owens once shared a special relationship with her grandson, Vance Michaels, born in Baltimore, MD. They would often stand by her bedroom widow, gaze into the night sky and talk about the "Moonman," a character Owens said was watching over and supporting Vance at all times.

When Vance moved away, Owens began sending him a variety of homemade drawings, cards and storybooks to comfort and watch over him. Her illustrations included the Moonman and many other characters, reminding Vance of his grandmother's loving presence.

Tragically, at the age of 4, Vance died in a fatal car accident, devastating those who knew him best, including his mother, Cynthia Michaels. "[Cynthia died only two years later] of a broken heart," said sills and patrice by e-mail. "Her sadness in losing her son lead to physical heart failure."

Owens collected her illustrations and stored them in a shoebox for safe keeping. But sills and patrice insisted that these drawings be used for the greater good. They believed Owens' art could make a luminous children's book as well as a lasting tribute to Vance and Cynthia.

WITH OWENS' blessings, sills and patrice began co-writing "Nana Star," a symbolic tale of a girl who helps a lost baby star return to its home in the heavens.

"We began asking each other what we wanted to do with the rest of our lives," said patrice. "We knew that it would have to be something that made a difference, where we'd be giving back [to the community], as well as something we'd find joy in every day."

"We always make sure we feel good about our work," said sills. "If not, we don't want to do it."

After trade marking "the laugh-friendly company," sills and patrice founded the Nana Star Foundation, which raises money and donates books to help educate and entertain poverty-stricken and terminally ill children across the country.

Their ventures are "devoted to cultivating the rediscovery of children's (and adults') imaginations everywhere," says their Web site, www.eeppinc.com.

Between 5 percent and 10 percent of the proceeds from the sale of all "Nana Star" books and merchandise is donated directly to the Nana Star Foundation. But beyond money, sills and patrice donate their books and time. "We give away a lot of books," said patrice. "[And] we're doing a tour this fall in the Baltimore/Maryland/Washington area where we're going to read to terminally ill children."

sills and patrice also define success a bit unconventionally. "We haven't made much money," said sills. "But we have been incredibly successful."

"Yes, we're getting a great response," said patrice.

Printed on high-quality paper and encased in a glossy dust jacket, the "Nana Star" hardcover book is accompanied by an audio CD that includes voice-over by sills and a performance of "The Nana Star Song" by Nashville singer/songwriter Tricia Walker.

"This is not a one-shot deal," said sills. "There is a lot of musical and voice-over talent in Clifton. Randy Blakley, a local fireman, will be doing the voice of the Moonman in our next book."

"We're pursuing other [Clifton residents] with artistic talents, too," said Patrice, "It's important for us to stay with our community. Clifton has been such a joy for us — it has really been uplifting."

More information on the Nana Star Foundation and Nana Star products can be found at www.nanastar.com.