Minnesota Executive’s New Children’s Book Is a Timely Story of Perseverance
Updated: Mar 2
(Minneapolis, MN) – There’s no doubt in Michael Keller’s mind that a gerbil he had when he was ten years old, named Jet, was special, maybe even legendary. The speed at which Jet would run mazes was amazing to Keller. So was the trick where Jet grabbed the rungs of his wheel while running to spin around upside down. “He was daredevil,” said Keller.
“It was like watching an animal stunt video you’d see in a TikTok today.” Keller also remembers the time Jet took on Hermann, his family’s black cat, scaring her right out of his tank after she had climbed in.
But that’s nothing when compared to the incident Keller writes about in his debut children’s book. The Legend of Jet the Gerbil, set for release on May 2, 2021, in connection with Be Kind to Animals Week, tells the true story of how Keller nearly lost his furry best friend forever.
“Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. You just can’t make up an incident like the one that occurred when Jet had a run-in with a household appliance,” says Keller. The powerful central vacuum cleaner, sucked Jet out of sight and into the bowels of the house.
The incredible story of Jet’s survival is one that Keller and his father, the hero of the rescue, have been telling for almost four decades. “In my mind, it could be the greatest gerbil story ever told,” said Keller. The decision to turn Jet’s adventure into a children’s book came after he left his job as CEO/President at the St. Paul-based Pearson Candy Company in the early Spring of 2019.
“When I was no longer working full-time in a corporate job, my mind started drifting to possible creative pursuits. I had always wanted to write a book, and the one I wanted to write the most was The Legend of Jet the Gerbil,” said Keller, who decided to team up with hybrid publisher Wise Ink Creative Publishing in Minneapolis to bring the book to life. The book is also being printed in and distributed from Minnesota.
“Working with Wise Ink has allowed me to maintain creative control, while at the same time work with experts to bring a quality product to the marketplace in a timely manner,” said Keller, who wants to get the book published while his father can still have the opportunity to enjoy it.
“My father will be almost 84 when the book is released. He is a big part of the story. He is the one who (spoiler alert) actually saved Jet’s life.” Keller’s father was a young cardiologist in New Jersey and his medical training turned out to be a welcome gift for a gerbil who found himself in a sticky situation.
Keller has dedicated the book to his parents, his kids, and his illustrator, Patrizia Donaera who is from Sovona in Liguria, Italy. She completed the majority of the illustrations at a time when COVID was ravaging her province and country.
“It is still amazing to me that despite what was happening to Patrizia’s life and family due to COVID, she brought Jet to life with a fun-loving and optimistic sparkle in his eyes. These are difficult times. With all that has happened politically and socially, and with the COVID-19 pandemic that will stretch well into 2021, sharing Jet’s story of resilience, perseverance, and survival feels like a good antidote for the times,” said Keller.
Early reviews of the book have been very favorable. “Told and illustrated with tender delight, The Legend of Jet the Gerbil captures the adventures—and misadventure—of a beloved pet gerbil who turns out to be surprisingly robust and resilient. A memorable, heartwarming tale,” said Angela Ajayi, short story writer, editor and Star Tribune literary reviewer.
“A moving true story about the bond between children and their pets. The Legend of Jet the Gerbil brims with heart, hope and unexpected twists and turns that will delight parents and kids alike,” said Elizabeth Foy Larsen, co-author of the UNBOARD series of family activity books
“The Legend of Jet the Gerbil is a story that will easily inspire children to also relate their own life's adventures into stories and tales, which they do all the time as they build and see themselves along life's path. A simple and relatable tale makes a lasting impression as a building block toward more and more complex thinking and problem-solving,” said Paulette Zoe, former principal and teacher at Lake Country Montessori in Minneapolis.
“The Legend of Jet the Gerbil is as delightful as it is beautifully illustrated, and accurately captures what rodent owners the world over already know; rodents make the most amazing pets! This enchanting little book should be in veterinary waiting rooms everywhere!” said Bianca Zaffarano, Associate Professor, Iowa State University Department of Veterinary Medicine.
To learn more about The Legend of Jet the Gerbil, go to JettheGerbil.com. A portion of the proceeds from book sales will be donated to Young Authors Publishing, an Atlanta-based nonprofit that pairs young writers, who are primarily from underserved and underrepresented communities, with a mentor who helps them write their book. Authors are also taught financial literacy and public speaking.
Michael Keller is the former CEO/President of St. Paul-based Pearson Candy Company. Prior to that he was the Chief Marketing Officer for International Dairy Queen, then based in Minneapolis. Before arriving in the Twin Cities in 2001, Keller had a long corporate marketing career in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Boston. He currently serves as the Chief Growth Officer for Pinnacle Performance Group, a change management consulting firm based in St. Louis Park.
He left Pearson’s Candy in early spring 2019, and once he had some extra time on his hands decided to write this book. “I had several book ideas in mind, but have always known that The Legend of Jet the Gerbil would have to come first,” said Keller.
The book will be released on May 2, 2021, which marks the beginning of Be Kind to Animals Week.
Michael Keller and his wife, Gina Zaffarano, reside in Uptown in Minneapolis. Michael has three kids, Ava, Davis and Alden; two stepdaughters, Hanna and Raina; two rescue dogs, Ziggy and Cooper; and a new gerbil named Gunny. In addition to writing, some of his other interests include serving on three nonprofit boards, planning parties and events, watching movies, listening to alternative rock, following multiple professional sports teams including MNUFC and fitness training. He is a graduate of Dartmouth College and the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This feature article and the accompanying photography are available for your use copyright free and cost free. If you prefer to arrange an interview of your own with Michael Keller, contact Rachel M. Anderson, Publicist, at 952-240-2513 or firstname.lastname@example.org.