Diane Prather: Author laughs about her mistakes


Humans make mistakes.

However, many of us take ourselves too seriously. The author of this week's book is able to laugh at her mistakes, and that's what makes this little book so special.

"Author: A True Story," by Helen Lester, is the story of the writing part of her own life, beginning when she was very young. Lester also illustrated the book.

Little Helen is an adorable blonde-haired little girl with rosy cheeks. Throughout the book she wears long green stockings designed with diamond shapes -- even as an adult.

The book begins: "A long time 'ago there lived a 3-year-old author. Me."

From the beginning, Helen is a writer. At age 3, she writes lots and lots of grocery lists, and she knows exactly what's written on each, even though the reader sees scribbles.

Young Helen writes so many "useful lists" that her mother, sitting in an easy chair, is almost completely covered with paper. Only Mother's feet, with her red and blue-striped socks, stick out.

The most important thing is that Mother never discourages Helen by saying that she has enough lists.

Time passes. Helen starts school where she learns to write real letters. She writes them beautifully, too, but there's a problem. Her letters are backwards. The teachers call Helen a "mirror writer." That's because they have to hold her papers up to a mirror to see what she's written.

But with a lot of hard work, Helen overcomes this obstacle and begins writing stories. She finds that it's hard work.

In fact, Helen sometimes sits at her desk with her head in her hands. Papers overflow the wastebasket and litter the desk and floor.

Sometimes Helen can't come up with ideas or titles. She gets stuck in the middle and can't seem to come up with changes the teacher suggests. She can't find her pencils.

It's understandable that Helen can get frustrated. However, it isn't unusual at all, even for adults, as the reader will discover.

So Helen dreams about what she's going to be when she grows up. Perhaps she'll work with the circus. She daydreams about swinging on the trapeze.

However, Helen Lester becomes a teacher and discovers that she likes to teach writing. Eventually she writes a children's book of her own, which she sends off to a publishing company. "Lucky people," she thinks, but it's her first rejection instead.

Lester gives the reader a positive and delightfully humorous look into the life of a writer with its ups and downs.

The reader learns that while writers may decide to give up one day, they go on writing the next. Lester has a tip about using a "Fizzle Box," too.

Helen Lester is the author of "Tacky the Penguin" and other books. The illustrator for most of her books is Lynn Munsinger, one of the artists featured in the past week's review.

"Author: A True Story" is published by Houghton Mifflin (1997) and costs $14.00. ISBN 0-395-82744-2)

Next week: John Grisham's first nonfiction book.

Copyright Diane Prather, 2006. All rights reserved.

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