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Kids' Q&A

Leslie Helakoski and Lee Harper

Describe your latest project.
Woolbur is not like other sheep. He hangs out with wild dogs. He cards his own wool and avoids the shearing barn. He rides the spinning wheel and dyes his wool BLUE. At school, he even weaves his forelock (instead of a potholder)!

"Don't worry!" says Grandpaa when Maa and Paa fret that Woolbur is different. When they tell their son to follow the flock, the opposite happens — the flock follows him! Soon everyone is copying his wild hairstyles and taking turns on the spinning wheel. But leave it to Woolbur to find a new way to step ahead of the herd!

Spunky, funky, and refreshingly distinct, Woolbur will strike a chord with anyone who's ever felt different. And that's all of us!


  1. Woolbur
    $17.99 New Hardcover add to wishlist

    Woolbur

    Leslie Helakoski and Lee Harper

  2. The Smushy Bus

    The Smushy Bus

    Leslie Helakoski

  3. Big Chickens
    $15.99 New Hardcover add to wishlist

    Big Chickens

    Leslie Helakoski

What is your favorite family story?
Lee Harper: When my son Dan was in preschool I was taking a class about herbaceous plants. Most of the class was about being able to identify plants and remember their scientific names. During that time Lee Harper:I would often point out plants to Dan and tell him the scientific name. Mostly I was doing this so I would remember the names.

Well anyway, that year I volunteered to coach Dan's T-Ball team. During one of our games when it was Dan's turn to bat, he was nowhere to be found. It was really embarrassing. I was the only coach on duty that day, so I had to pause the game in the middle of the fifth inning to go look for my son. It didn’t take long until I found him out past left field in a patch of weeds. When I came up to him he was totally immersed in studying something he had found. When he noticed me standing there, he looked up from a plant he was examining and exclaimed excitedly, "Look, Dad... I think I've found some Asclepias curassavica!"

Introduce one other author/illustrator you think people should read, and suggest a good book by him/her.
Leslie Helakoski: I am a big fan of Mary Ann Hoberman. She writes great verse without forgetting story. Her book, The Seven Silly Eaters, is one of my favorites and is enhanced by a fabulous illustrator, Marla Frazee. For me, this is the perfect combination of art and words.

Lee Harper: I love David Catrow's illustrations. A book he illustrated that I would recommend is Plantzilla , written by Jerdine Nolen.

Describe your most memorable teacher.
Lee Harper: Mrs. Gotchell, my third grade teacher. I remember her because she was the first teacher that really encouraged me to draw. She was like a mother to all the third graders. She was very kind. I don't remember that many details about her appearance other than she wore dresses with flower prints and she was about eight feet tall.

Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
Leslie Helakoski: From Markus Zusak's The Book Thief. "Frau Diller was a sharp edged woman with fat glasses and a nefarious glare. She developed this evil look to discourage the very idea of stealing from her shop, which she occupied with soldier-like posture, a refrigerated voice and even breath that smelled like "Heil Hitler." (I love, love, love this use of language.)

Lee Harper: From Fluffy and the Gangbuster, a short story by Richard Peck, as featured in Past Perfect, Present Tense: New and Collected Stories. "There was much they didn't know about Fluffy, or in fact about any cat. Humans simply don't know that cats understand every word they hear spoken. After all, they've lived thousands of years with people, and there's nothing wrong with their hearing.'"

What is your favorite literary first line?
Leslie Helakoski: From Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. "The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another his mother called him 'WILD THING!' and Max said 'I'LL EAT YOU UP!' so he was sent to bed without eating anything." (And the second line is even better.)

Lee Harper: From Feed by M. T. Anderson. "We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck."

How did the last good book you read end up in your hands?
Lee Harper: Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography by David Michaelis ended up in my hands after I read about it in a Wall Street Journal book review. Schulz was my mother's favorite cartoonist. I can remember when I was a young boy just learning to draw, and my mother telling me to study the expressions on Charles Schulz's characters. So when I heard there was a new biography of his life, I had to get it.

Do you read the Sunday funnies, and which are your favorites?
Lee Harper: I don't read the comics much these days. I miss Calvin and Hobbes

What is your favorite breakfast cereal?
Lee Harper: My current favorite is Kellogg's Frosted Mini-Wheats, but I am going to try Cap'n Crunch's Crunch Berries tomorrow, which I have been told are incredibly delicious!

(Since writing this sentence I have tried Cap'n Crunch's Crunch Berries. The colors are very intense secondaries and primaries, and first thing in the morning it is hard to look directly into the bowl when eating them. They have a very strong vitamin aftertaste that lasts several hours. The artwork on the box is enjoyable, but I can now say with certainty that my favorite breakfast cereal is not Cap'n Crunch's Crunch Berries.)

What was your favorite story as a child?
Leslie Helakoski: I have always loved Millions of Cats, by Wanda Ga'g. It was originally written back in 1928, it's still in print and still a wonderful, fun story abut how difficult making a decision can be.

What is your idea of bliss?
Lee Harper: Being sung to sleep at night by a chorus of Dink Frogs, waking up in the morning to the sound of distant Howler Monkeys, then going for a swim in the ocean.

Why do you write books for kids?
Leslie Helakoski: We often want to create what we love and I have never stopped loving children's books. Children's books combine two of my favorite things — art and story. It's fun moving words around to make them silly and making animals talk about fear and cows worry about their hair. I love how art adds to the experience. I want to create books that are beautiful, fun and have value.

Lee Harper: I like seeing kids faces light up when they see one of my silly drawings, and I'm a little too immature to be a serious artist. I also like the idea that I am helping kids enjoy reading by creating interesting illustrations. Books make life so much richer, helping to bring books into the lives of young people seems like an important job to me.

Tell us about your pets.
Leslie Helakoski: I love animals which is probably why they keep coming up in my stories. Growing up, my family always had cats and dogs and even several raccoons. Right now, we have one pet in our house. She is a Bichon Frise, which is a small, curly, white dog. We call her Dezi and she loves to curl up next to me when I write in my big chair. If I am at the computer, she thinks the floor is too hard and will climb on my bed and nestle on top of all the pillows.

Lee Harper: Our dog Dash is a Chocolate Lab. He likes to lie right on my foot when I am painting. He really loves to be with people. He's a big baby. On the other hand, we have a cat named Liney who basically just uses our house as base for her hunting expeditions, a place to warm up in the winter, and as a place to hide out when the Blue Jays are trying to kill her. We also have three Chameleons. Their names are George, Kelly, and Cortez. And I suppose I should mention our resident Stink Bug. His name is Stanley. I'm not sure if he would be considered a pet, but he has been with our family for so long, he would probably feel left out if I didn't include him.

What's your favorite holiday and why?
Lee Harper: My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. I like the idea of having a day just to say thanks. I love November in Pennsylvania, football games with family, and of course all the great food!

Who are your favorite characters in history?
Lee Harper: My favorite characters in history are the explorers Lewis and Clark. It must have been really exciting to live in a time when so much of our country was still unexplored. Now we just MapQuest everything.

If you could pick anyone to illustrate one of your books, who would it be and why?
Leslie Helakoski: It depends on the book because one illustrator's style would not match all my stories. But I would love to work with Mark Buehner or Mark Teague. I love the way they develop characters visually and would cut flips if they illustrated one of my stories.

÷ ÷ ÷

Leslie Helakoski is the author of The Smushy Bus and Big Chickens, a Junior Library Guild selection. Born and raised near New Orleans, she now lives in Lawton, Michigan, with her family.

÷ ÷ ÷

Lee Harper is a painter and sculptor who exhibits at galleries nationwide. This is his first picture book. He lives in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, with his family. spacer

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