Son finishes writing, illustrating mother’s book

‘The House Where Happiness Lived’ captures former East Toledoan’s recollections

Timothy Leistner illustrated a children's book that his late mother authored about her childhood in East Toledo in the 1930s.
Timothy Leistner illustrated a children's book that his late mother authored about her childhood in East Toledo in the 1930s.

Sue Hiser Leistner talked so much about her pleasant childhood that her son Timothy Leistner convinced her to put the memories into a children’s storybook.

She did, and though she didn’t live to complete the book, Mr. Leistner finished it and aptly captured his mother’s early years growing up on Spring Grove Avenue in East Toledo during the Great Depression.

Mrs. Leistner, who died in 2012, is of course the main character in, The House Where Happiness Lived. She grew up when chasing butterflies and rummaging through a bucket of buttons with a grandparent were enough to keep 8 or 9-year-old Happiness and other children busy. Mrs. Leistner would indeed have been pleased with the colorful illustrations by her son, a part-time professor of children’s literature and language arts at Florida Atlantic University in Fort Lauderdale. It’s vividly apparent in the book that he specializes in water colors. He also has a small art gallery in Dania Beach, Fla.

“The inspiration for the book was a poem she had written years ago when she was young,” Mr. Leistner said during a recent interview. His mother lived in the East Toledo home with her mother and grandmother until she married. Dr. Carl Leistner, a dentist, lives in Perrysburg.

In fact, some readers might remember Mrs. Leistner, as she was a freelance writer for The Blade, which published her stories. Feature stories about Ann Landers and Tiedtke’s were among some of her more notable ones. She also wrote for the Ohio-Michigan Line and Mature Living magazine.

“I tried to make it as specific to Toledo as I could. The story really took place in Toledo, and I tried to make it historically accurate as I could for a children’s picture book.”

It’s no wonder then that The Blade and Tiedtke’s are mentioned and in illustrations. Mrs. Leistner’s mother sold little girls’ dresses at former downtown Toledo department and grocery store, and after standing on her feet all day, rest was in order. An illustration shows the child Mrs. Leistner drying dishes in the background with her mother sitting down soaking her feet and reading The Blade. The picture also shows the Peach Section and a Tiedtke’s ad in the newspaper.

The book cover show an image of his mother in a blue skirt and red shirt, white ankle socks, and black Mary Janes, trying to catch a butterfly while her dog Scrap romps nearby. A little girl playing outside in a skirt reveals that this is set in a time that today’s youngsters are not familiar. But that it didn’t hinder Mr. Leistner from proceeding with the project.

“It’s a piece of historical fiction that will help children understand a time period they never lived in. It lends itself to discussions with children to compare and contrast a time gone by. The theme of helping others and being kind to your family and neighbor is needed today. All children want to feel valued, and doing kind things for your family brings eternal happiness,” he said.

Accompanying the book is a guide for parents and teachers to use to help children better understand life in the 1930s and 1940, he said.

“They can learn what is a bobby pin in the grandmother’s hair, who FDR was, and what an ice box was,” he said, citing examples.

The self-published book is available on for from $14 to $18, depending on whether there is a special, Mrs. Leistner said.

“After she passed, I really felt she wanted me to do this,” her son said. “It was therapeutic for me, and a tribute to her.”

Contact Rose Russell at 419-724-6178 or