TTLG Author/Illustrator Profiles

Helen Lester

Helen Lester

"Sometime between the age of electricity and the age of television (actually it was 1936) I was born in Evanston, Illinois. Most of my early writing was done in the form of thank-you notes at birthdays and Christmas, and was not a voluntary activity. As I grew older, however, I began to appreciate the voluminous and clever letters my parents wrote to various friends and family members, and developed a sense of what fun could be had with the written word. Still, I had no dreams of becoming a writer, only of becoming a bride. (It was the fifties.) Since no one wanted to turn me into a bride, I became a teacher.

After ten years of teaching elementary school, during which time I did become a bride, I took temporary leave of that profession to spend time with our two young sons. It was during this domestic period that several factors came into play which ultimately influenced my writing career. First, in reading bedtime stories to my children I remember being overjoyed every time I came across a story that would make me laugh, for often at 7:30 p.m. not much is funny. I decided the world needed more books that would amuse both adults and children. Second, my old second-graders came back to haunt me — more about them in a moment. And finally, I backed into writing thinking I was an illustrator. I'd always enjoyed drawing, and when a friend saw my work and casually suggested I should write children's books, I thought, "Perhaps. Why not?"

My early stories were just words written around my pictures. But at last, in 1979, after I'd suffered ("suffered" is the proper word here) many rejections, my first book was published. My husband, always the cheerleader, gave me a silver bowl with the book's title engraved on it. But it wasn't until a few years later, when my editor tactfully suggested that I might be a better writer than illustrator, that I really thought of myself as a writer. Since then, with a few exceptions, I've left the art in my books to the wonderful Lynn Munsinger, who draws what I would if I could, and our twelfth collaboration was published in the fall of 2000 — Tacky and the Emperor.

Back to my second-graders. They appear as Pinkerton the pushy pig in Me First, Buddy the oblivious rabbit in Listen, Buddy and of course I never had a class without at least one Tacky (not to mention Goodly, Lovely, Angel, Neatly, and Perfect in the wings).

In addition to writing, I enjoy visiting schools all over the country encouraging children to write. Armed with messages such as "My books don't jump out of the computer," "Not all of my stories get published," and "Being edited isn't fun but it's good for you," I've found a new form of teaching. Author: A True Story comes directly from my school visits, and is perhaps the book of which I am proudest. How fortunate I am to have backed into this wonderful field.

After living in New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, and Minneapolis, my husband and I have settled in our favorite village, Pawling, New York, where we tend our writing, our dog, and our empty nest.