Saturday, March 16, 2013

My Favorite Author for Classroom Guidance: Helen Lester

Cover of "Me First [ME 1ST]"
Cover of Me First [ME 1ST]
One of my favorite children's authors and one that I use a lot in classroom guidance lessons is Helen Lester. A retired teacher, she has a lot of books to choose from but here are the ones that I use over and over, EVERY year!!

Me First.  This book came out in 1992, a couple of years before I became a counselor and  I bet I've read it several times every year since then.  It still is a classic as far as I'm concerned.  I love the corny joke that tricks the pink, plump and pushy pig, Pinkerton into being the Sand Witch's slave for the day.  I love the message that Me First is not always best.  I love the message that we should think of others before ourselves. This book makes it so obvious that even the little ones get it and wonder how Pinkerton could be so selfish.  It's really a gem.

Hooway For Wodney Wat is another favorite.  I use this book in lessons about individual differences, diversity and special needs.  It not only has a great message it is hilarious.  Sometimes it is hard to keep a straight face and read the book.  Rodney or Wodney as he calls himself has a speech impediment that causes him to be very shy.  The other kids tease him and ask him questions that emphasize his speech problem.  He eats lunch alone and plays by himself at recess.  All that changes when he is chosen to be Simon in a Simon Says game that imvolves the class bully.  His misunderstood speech saves the day and sends the bully off to parts unknown in the west while the rest of the class takes a rest.  I enjoy this book as much as the kids for it's terrific sense of humor and great message that we all have strengths and abilities.

Listen Buddy is the perfect book for the listening skills lesson that I teach every year to kindergarten.  What a great story!  It is a wonderful illustration of how distracted children can be and how there are times when it is critical to be a good listener, like when you are about to be made into bunny soup by the Scruffy Varmint.   The children are usually on the edge of their seats as Buddy makes a dash for his life at the end of the story. 

Princess Penelope's Parrot is an insightful message for children in this age of entitlement.  I've used this book in lessons about caring for others, compassion and kindness.  It's fun to challenge students to rewrite the story and change Penelope's selfish attitude into a generous caring attitude. What would she do differently?  How would the story end?

Author A True Story is Lester's autobiographical book about how she became an author.  I've used it to inspire our writing club students to write. I've also used it during our school Arts Festival to encourage all grade levels to do what they love and overcome personal obstacles.  Children are always impressed that someone who wrote backward and hated to write in school could become an author as an adult.

A second grade teacher for a number of years, Lester writes books with a message for all ages.  According to an interview published on her website, all of the characters of her books come straight out of her classroom.  As a child, she had great difficulty with writing herself so she spent a lot of time frustrated and lost.  She dreamed of joining the circus.  She writes, "However since no one from the circus came looking for me, I became a teacher." 

A friend encouraged Lester to try writing a children's book and she thought, "I spent ten years in second grade, so I know a child from a chicken.  Maybe I should." It wasn't easy though.  She wrote seven books and got as many rejections before a publisher finally said, "Yes, please."  Lester  writes, "I was beside myself with joy and excitement.  I was the first author I had ever met."

What a great writer and resource she has become!  I could literally plan my entire guidance year around her books.  I love reading them as much as the children love hearing them. 

What about you?  Have you read Helen Lester's books?  What is your favorite?

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