Books by Helen Lester

Released: March 7, 2017

"This book needs to reject stereotypes in order to get woke. (Picture book. 4-6)"
Trouble sleeping keeps little Boris from thriving at school. Read full book review >
Released: July 21, 2015

"Halloween has not been as shivery, silly, and satisfying as in this polar romp. (Picture book. 4-8)"
While his friends busy themselves getting the igloo ready for Halloween, Tacky the Penguin is less than helpful. Read full book review >
Released: March 25, 2014

"A lighthearted paean to the importance of cleanliness. (Picture book. 3-6)"
Beware the Loch Mess monster! Read full book review >
Released: May 14, 2013

"Another enthusiastic embrace of silliness from Antarctica. (Picture book. 3-6)"
It takes a lot of planning to put together the perfect penguin party. And even then... Read full book review >
Released: April 3, 2012

"Given a name like Gruntly, there's little to expect but greed, but this pig flies to higher ground. (Picture book. 4-8) "
Gruntly is a literal and metaphorical hog who serves as his own comeuppance in this gentle, if spirited, admonition. Read full book review >
WODNEY WAT'S WOBOT by Helen Lester
Released: Oct. 3, 2011

"This sequel will be embraced by youngsters who struggle with their speech and need some hints on how to handle the capybaras in their lives. (Picture book. 4-9)"
Wodney Wat, the lovable rodent who cannot pronounce the r sound, receives a remarkable robot as a birthday present (Hooway forWodney Wat, 1999). Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 24, 2007

Ewetopia lives among a flock of the humorless and uptight. She has an issue, too—she's uncomfortable in her own wool—but her need to hide in an outfit is carried out with a degree of panache. Still, her cohorts don't get her act, and they are positively offended when she arrives at the Woolyones' Costume Ball dressed as a wolf, which seems like a natural. When a character dressed as a sheep appears, no one's the wiser until he rips off his disguise, revealing himself as a wolf, and snatches a few ewes for supper. The wolf has an Achilles heel, though—he thinks Ewetopia is his mother. Gaining on this advantage, Ewetopia demands the wolf do a number of chores before dinner is served. He has a fit, storms out of the ball and the lambs' chops are saved. Munsinger's artwork catches the quiet to madcap moods of the book, but the usually spot-on Lester is groping for a coherent story line. The cobbled result has humorous parts—the wolf's tantrum and some enjoyable "Who's on First" wordplay. But the book fails to gel, and why any of this should result in Ewetopia's acceptance of her own true self is a mystery. (Picture book. 4-8)Read full book review >
BATTER UP WOMBAT by Helen Lester
Released: Aug. 21, 2006

"The Champs weren't," writes Lester, introducing Munsinger's hairy, delightful baseballers. Concisely so, but only from the vantage point of runs scored. Into their unsuspecting, winless ranks marches a hairy, delightful wombat (a sturdily built Australian marsupial, for those as clueless about wombats as this wombat is about baseball). The sport may bewilder the wombat, but the Champs think his name is powerfully suggestive—"Wham! Bat!"—and the wombat is tickled by baseball's allusive jargon, literally interpreting such items as "a pitcher stands on a mound," "the catcher wears a mask" and, best of all, "the hitter hits a foul," with the image coming to his mind of a chicken getting clobbered by a boxing glove. While the wombat doesn't deliver the big hits the Champs expected, he does dig them a storm cellar into which they retreat (it seems the Champs are forever retreating into one cellar or another) when a tornado invades their playing field. Comically absurd wordplay and Munsinger's typically goofy art make this an unbeatable combination. (Picture book. 4-8)Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 24, 2005

Lester's Tacky is tacky, though he is even more a Society of Oddfellows unto himself, a pleasing misfit among his righteous penguin cohort of Goodly, Lovely, Angel, Neatly and Perfect. Tacky is joyously oblivious of their rectitude as they prepare for the penguin Winter Games, pumping iron and skipping rope as Tacky catches a few zzz's and equips his exer-cycle with a horn and tassels, chows pizza and donuts as the others dutifully swallow their spinach (and Munsinger is perfect here, easily capturing both sniffyness and unbridled appetite). Tacky unintentionally subverts the rules of the Games, winning but losing as officials disqualify his unorthodox stratagems. Finally, his team grabs a victory despite the fact that Tacky ate the baton. A citizen of the deep cold, it's another Frost that Tacky emulates, the one who recommends the road not taken. Tacky, the clueless role model, takes it all the time. (Picture book. 4-6)Read full book review >
HURTY FEELINGS by Helen Lester
Released: Sept. 27, 2004

Fragility is a hippo and as such, she is "a solid piece of work," but her feelings are as soft as tofu. A rude comment would sink her faster than a couple pair of cement boots, but she also could read insults in a compliment: "Nice? Do you know what else is nice? Cupcakes are nice. So you're comparing me to a squishy cupcake." Boo-hoo. Such a delicate flower comes across as delightfully mirthful in Lester's tale, though not the consequences of her behavior: The other animals avoid her. Then one day—out of nowhere, really, and it's not the story's strong suit—Fragility stands up to the insults of an elephant, who threatens their ball game, without nervous collapse. Fortunately, Munsinger's illustrations prop up this teetery tale with a brace of good cheer and well-tempered comedy. (Picture book. 4-8)Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 29, 2003

There certainly are a lot of scary things that might happen, but most people aren't afraid of their shampoo or their sneakers. Twitchly Fidget, a young lemur, is scared of both and much more. When his friends come to ask him to a parade, he declines for fear of getting bopped by a drumstick or sucked into a trombone. When his friends return to ask him to a marshmallow roast, he declines again for fear of getting stuck to everyone with melty marshmallows. His friends stop coming around, but Aunt Bridget Fidget swoops down to set things aright. With her own brand of tough love, Aunt Bridget shows Twitchly that just because something might happen doesn't mean it will. Lester and Munsinger have once more delivered a silly yet instructional tale sure to please generations of listeners. (Picture book. 4-8)Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 30, 2002

Pomposity gets one on the snoot when Tacky the Penguin (Tacky and the Emperor, 2000, etc.) returns to take the lead in the school play. Goodly, Lovely, Angel, Neatly, and Perfect—penguins all—are staging a play for Mrs. Beakly's school. Tacky is begrudgingly allowed to join and gets the role of Goldilocks, or, in this case, Tackylocks. Their lines mastered, the penguins take to the stage in front of Mrs. Beakly's class of little fuzzy and obstreperous penguin chicks. Tackylocks gallumphs his way through the performance: chowing down all the porridge (even when it is too hot or too cold); piling the chairs atop one another to get at the cookie jar on top of the cabinet; taking a great pratfall—"A penguin full of porridge does not fall like a snowflake. ‘Cool!' cheered the Little Fuzzy Ones"—and then promptly falls asleep in the little bear's bed. The other penguins go stiffly through the motions, visibly disturbed that not all appears to be going as planned. Then Tacky explodes out of the bed and stages a pillow fight, in which all the Little Fuzzy Ones get active. The play is a crashing success; there is little wonder why, and their names aren't Goodly, Lovely, Angel, Neatly, or Perfect. Lester doesn't overdue the text, but keeps it at a crisp, droll level, and, as usual, Munsinger's illustrations catch the right proportion of absurdity and comeuppance. Another victory for oddfellows everywhere. (Picture book. 4-8)Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 2001

An amusing, if decidedly sleepy, tale of sloths and the very relaxing atmosphere of their school—an institution thrown in jeopardy by a bureaucrat of conventional stripe—from the hand-and-glove team behind Tacky the Penguin and Wodney Wat. Sleepy Valley Sloth School lives up to its name: nobody here but drowsy sloths. They snooze through their lessons—so do their teachers—through their recess, through their study hall. They sleep "until six o'clock when the custodian swept them out, and they rolled home." It was one contented educational establishment. One day a disruptive influence makes the scene: a young fireplug of a sloth named Sparky, who tries to light some fire under her classmates: " ‘Let's read a story! Hey, we could use a little music! Want to build a castle? Anyone for math? How about some poetry?' " No takers. " ‘What a bunch of bores,' " she sighs. Then a real boar pushes through the door, an operative from the Society for Organizing Sameness, come to close the school for failing in all subjects. Sparky saves the school by dazzling the organization man with feats of reading, music, math, and poetry. Who says sloths are underachievers? They're being sloths, and just how many creatures have had their name elevated to a common adjective? Only Munsinger could so perfectly catch them in all their languid glory, from the opening page when they are quite literally "just hanging around" as loose-limbed and zonked-out as anything ever seen, to as nearly awake as a sloth can get while piled up in a heap trying to pay attention. And the belly laughs induced by Lester's words will keep everyone awake. (Picture book. 3-7)Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 2000

Tacky, the delightful penguin who marches (or is it waddles?) to a different drummer is back in another funny and charming tale—this time involving a royal visit from the emperor. When Tacky and his five iceberg-mates learn that the emperor is coming to visit, they enter into frenzied preparations. A feast of fish-flavored food is prepared, entertainment is rehearsed, and Tacky is put in charge of the balloons. But when he blows up a really big balloon, he takes an unplanned ride and ends up on a neighboring iceberg, which, unbeknownst to Tacky, is the emperor's home. Seeing a set of very fancy clothes lying unattended and unclaimed on the ice, he puts them on and waddles back to his own iceberg. To his amazement, his five friends make a huge fuss over him, plying him with food and making sure he's amused and happy. Although Tacky doesn't realize it, his friends have mistaken him for the emperor. When the real emperor arrives, the five others are mortified that there is nothing left with which to impress him, and are exasperated with Tacky. The emperor, who turns out to be sick to death of the stuffy and formal visits most of his subjects make him sit through, has a great time with Tacky and his improvisations. Instead of the fish-flavored food that the emperor is usually offered, they have snowball cones; instead of a boring dance recital, Tacky sings his favorite silly song; and they all (even his royal highness) tell penguin jokes. The watercolor illustrations are adorable and full of humor—note especially the fish-flavored ice cream, the emperor's twinkle-toed shoes, and the double-page spread on which the penguins learn about the mistake that's been made. Children will think this book is a riot and won't even realize that a message is being delivered—a charming one about the joys of non-conformity. (Picture book. 4-8)Read full book review >
AUTHOR by Helen Lester
Released: April 1, 1997

A breezy look at the trials and triumphs of authorship from Lester (Princess Penelope's Parrot, 1996). She began her writing career at age three by inundating her patient mother with hundreds of scrawled grocery lists: ``And the fun part was that I could turn each list upside down and the words said the same thing.'' She is disarmingly candid about her frustrations with writing in school, the discouragement of having her first six books rejected, and the labor of turning ideas into finished works. Always apparent is her delight in the process of creation and in meeting her audience: ``This is better than a dream come true.'' Accompanying her words are her own cheery drawings, depicting herself with the same spiky blond hair and argyle tights from childhood on. Easy to read and reassuringly realistic. (Picture book. 7-10) Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1996

Princess Penelope's Parrot ($14.95; Oct. 1996; 32 pp.; 0-395-78320-8): A routine, predictable morality tale: Despite selfish Princess Penelope's threats and demands, her new parrot refuses to talk—until Prince Percival pays a call. The parrot drives him away by repeating Penelope's words verbatim, then later joins him on the beach, leaving the unedified Princess preparing to hook the next prince who happens along. Any interest that Munsinger's familiar cartoon figures spark will quickly disappear beneath the heavy lesson and trite plotline. (Picture book. 5-7) Read full book review >

Tacky the Penguin wears loud shirts and sings horribly, a contrast to the perfect, preened members of his flock (who've got names like "Neatly" and "Perfect"). But when hunters come seeking pretty penguins, it's Tacky's lack of… well… tact that saves the day. The iPad-app version of the 1990 book doesn't work much to improve upon the hilarious first adventure of the "odd bird," but the developer's trademark less-is-more approach enhances what's there without overdoing things with needless features. Animated snow is ever-present, falling slowly on every page. Background music blends gracefully with sound effects (the penguin singing is particularly well done). And the narration is lively enough to match the sharp text and expressive illustrations. Like many of the apps developed by Oceanhouse Media, every object and word on the page is read out loud when touched, and page flipping is done with simple swipes. As Tacky is prone to do to his penguin friends, the developers deserve a "hearty slap on the back and a loud 'What's happening?' " Charming and oh-so-neatly put together. (iPad storybook app. 3-9)Read full book review >