PRO BIO: Leslie Helakoski is the author of 14 picture books and she sometimes (but not always) illustrates them. Her newest addition, ARE YOUR STARS LIKE MY STARS? (illustrated by Heidi Woodward Sheffield) has been included in the 2020 Ultimate List of Diverse Children’s Books. Leslie’s award-winning books are known for their humor and word play. Recent titles include READY OR NOT, WOOLBUR GOES TO SCHOOL and HOOT & HONK JUST CAN'T SLEEP. Upcoming titles are WHEN THE RAIN CAME DOWN and BACK TO THE WOODS. Leslie has served as a regional advisor for Michigan SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) for 11 years. She runs the popular PB&J workshop at Highlights each summer on crafting children’s books. She was awarded the 2020 Gwen Frostic Award for her work in literacy. See more about her at www.helakoskibooks.com.
PERSONAL: I grew up in south Louisiana in the middle of 6 brothers and sisters. Many of the things we did growing up come out in my stories. Like smashing into tight places and running through cow pastures, for example. Once, my sister convinced me that a nutria hole in the banks of the bayou would make a good camp and after I was in, wouldn't let me out. Lots of material.
I was considered quiet and was very good at imagining that I was someone else. I have always loved to read and draw. As a teen, I thought about writing a novel and made several attempts. The words always sounded better in my head than they did on paper. (This still happens).
Growing up in a French speaking area increased my love for language in all forms. I love how the way a word sounds can make me laugh and how arranging letters and words in a particular order can make them funny or interesting or bizarre. I think that it's possible to say anything or tell any story, as long as you phrase it in a certain way. Since my words don't always come out of my mouth the way I want them to or even when I want them to, I write. Because one of the things that delights me about writing is that I can come up with the right words later - - sometimes much later.
I spent years working in my parent's "Thinking School", a Montessori style pre-school, where I learned the importance of combining learning with fun. I earned a degree in Advertising from the University of Louisiana and also worked as a designer and illustrator in Advertising agencies in several cities. (See illustration below).
Eventually, I followed my heart to Michigan where I got a degree in illustration from Northern Michigan University and then to Louisiana where I got a degree in Advertising Design. Raising my own children brought me back to my love of picture books and story. The story always comes first for me, then the words and then the images. I've been writing and illustrating now for over 20 years. As a child, when I dreamed of doing something, I was told "Of course you can do it!" I'm not sure why but I still have to remind myself of that every day.
Now I split time between Louisiana and Michigan with my husband. My three grown children are scattered around the country. I served as Regional Advisor for the SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) Michigan chapter for 11 years and am now RA Emeritus. I have 13 books published and run the PB&J workshop at Highlights each summer on writing picture books. I work as a writing coach and provide manuscript critique services-- just email me or click on the critique button at the top of each page.
I was recently awarded the 2020 Gwen Frostic Award from the Michigan Reading Association for my role in influencing literacy.