Students and teachers dressed as book characters during Young Authors Day Friday at Eagle Lake School.

Archived Story

Eagle Lake exults in authors

Published 3:41pm Thursday, May 17, 2012

Leslie Helakoski’s autobiography is a picture book.
“Big Chickens” is about her and three siblings walking in the woods.
Being able to turn your brothers and sisters into chickens — or dinosaurs, dogs or “whatever you want” — is one advantage to being an author, she said Friday morning at Eagle Lake Elementary School Young Authors Day.
Helakoski, a Louisiana native who moved to Michigan 15 years ago and lives in Lawton, “likes being able to write anywhere. All I need is pen and paper. I can work at the beach or in my pajamas in the morning.”
Publisher rejection is the down side, “but that just means you have to work harder.”
Helakoski, whose books include “Woolbur,” about a sheep inspired by a second-grader’s drawing, “Fair Cow” with her own illustrations, “The Smooshy Bus,” “Big Chickens Fly the Coop” and “Big Chickens Go to Town,” admitted, “I was scared of all kinds of things when I was young. We had to jump a big ditch and cross a cow pasture, so I wrote stories about chicken chickens.”
Helakoski reduces story elements to oh + oh-oh + oh-no = ohhhh.
Oh is the setting. Oh-oh gives characters conflict. Problems escalate until the oh-no, where Little Red Riding Hood risks being devoured by a wolf, then the ohhhh, or ending.
Even a picture book author needs research. Helakoski hung out at a fair and rode a school bus.
“One thing I learned about chickens is that they can’t swim. I had them in the lake, so I had to throw a log in for them to hang on,” she said.
“I spend a whole lot of time” rewriting, she said. “I change my words all the time, which I like about writing. It’s not like math, where there’s one good answer and you have to get it right the first time.”
Each book begins as a 32-panel storyboard she roughs out with little doodles.
She previewed “Under the Table,” about a dog that likes it there because food scraps fall his way as his family grows and more feet take a seat. It will be published next year. Also on her drawing board is an alligator story.
Together, she and the children concoct a tale about a tiger with a long tail that tangles in vines when it tries to catch a monkey in the jungle and another about a pig plopped in the ocean that tries to eat a great white shark and an octopus before hitching a ride to shore on a turtle.

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