Helaine Becker

  • 5 min read

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  • Author website/social media:www.helainebecker.com; twitter @helainebecker  I have an instagram acct @helainebecker but I never use it.

When you were my age (9), did you like to read? Oh yes. I was AVID. I was very lucky – we had a great public library in my town, and my parents took us kids at least once a week. They were avid readers too. Nobody told me what I could or couldn’t read, so I ranged widely through the kids’ section first, then the adult section. When I was nine, I read and loved books like Magic Elizabeth by Norma Kassirer, Half Magic and Seven-Day Magic by Edward Eager, The Four Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright, The Witch Family by Eleanor Estes and The Borrowers by Mary Norton. I’d probably discovered The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, by CS Lewis by then. I also started reading books for adults like Tolkien’s The Hobbit and mysteries by Agatha Christie. I didn’t always understand everything I read, but found them pretty fun anyway. I’ve attached a picture of me on a summer vacation in Rhode Island. A very typical picture of me at that age – I was 9 that July – turning 10 later in the summer.

9 yo Helaine reading on the beach

What was your favorite story?I fell head over heels for the Lion the Witch and Wardrobe, which I stumbled upon by accident. I remember finding it on the shelf at the library, taking it home and loving it – but then I couldn’t find it again!! I didn’t remember the author’s name or the complete title. It was probably two years before I stumbled across it again – AND discovered there were six more books in the Chronicles of Narnia series. I was ECSTATIC. I read every book at least 3000 times.

How do you get your ideas? For me, ideas are everywhere. They are like breathing. I pay attention to what’s going on around me, and am constantly asking myself questions, of the “I wonder….” and the “What if” variety.  I also still read a lot, and when I read, I learn stunning bits of info that just seem to scream out to be turned into book. As far as retelling stories goes – no story is ever complete. When I read a story like Cinderella, I wind up with questions. Like, “what if Cinderella had the stinkiest feet of everyone in the whole town?” THAT then becomes a new story, a “retelling” of an old one, but with a new twist that only I can provide. (That retold Cinderella became a poem called “Smelly Smelly Cinderelly.” It originally appeared in my book Mother Goose Unplucked. It’s hilarous, if I do say so myself. When I do school visits, I sometimes read another poem called Tinkle Tinkle Tinklebell, about a Tinkerbell like fairy with a bladder problem).

What author do you really like right now?I am madly in love with the books of Kim Brubaker Bradley. I love how she tells complicated stories simply, without dumbing down or sanitizing the tough bits. Jefferson’s Sons and The War That Saved My Life are both brilliant.

Do you have any new or lesser known authors you would suggest?I live and work in Canada, so I know a lot of Canadian authors. They’re doing amazing things now! You will love love love books by Helene Boudreau, Deborah Kerbel, Frieda Wishinsky, Karen Krossing, Mahtab Narsimhan, Heather Camlot Lena Coakley,Adrienne Kress.

What advice do you have for a kid who wants to be an author?Ah. The question.  You know some of the biggies people always tell you, like read a lot, already. They are right, but I won’t repeat. Here’s my one extra point:  Most of us think that if we try and write something and it comes out bad, that means we’re not good writers. That’s not true. EVERY writer’s first draft stinks. It’s so stinky we have a term for it – we call it “word vomit.” It’s hard to get the ideas out of your head and onto the page. The first draft, therefore, is just your raw material. Pro writers revise and revise and revise until their eyes cross, trying to turn that mess into a shiny jewel. The ones who succeed are the ones who worked the hardest at that revision stage, not the ones who started out with the best first draft.

As an author, do you hear from your readers? What do you like about that? I love knowing that my work touched someone’s heart – whether to make them laugh, learn to read, or get through a tough time. Writers spend a lot of time in our offices alone, doubting ourselves. Getting feedback like that gives us the courage and will to keep at it.

If you could portal into any book (yours or another person’s), what book would it be?Through most of my life I would have instantly said, “Narnia.” Talking animals! Centaurs! Kids get to be queens! But now? Hmmmm….it’s going to have to be a world with working flush toilets…and no sexism or racism….I pick The Zoom, where Sloth in Sloth at the Zoom lives. I think she’s got a pretty sweet gig going!


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