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Marilyn Helmer Biography - Personal, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Work in Progress, Sidelights

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Born 0027;s name Gary; Hobbies and other interests: Reading, travel, collecting and crafts.

Career

Author of books for children and young adults.

Member

Canadian Society of Children's Authors, Illustrators and Performers, Canadian Children's Book Center, Society of Book Writers and Illustrators, Burlington Storytellers' Guild.

Honors Awards

Second prize, Children's Writer science article writing contest, 1997; Toronto I.O.D.E. Book Award, and Arts Hamilton Book Award, both 1998, and Mr. Christie's Book Award for Best Children's Book for Children Seven Years and Younger, and Society of School Librarians International Picture Book Award, both 1999, all for Fog Cat; Ontario Library Association Best Bets selection, 1999, and Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books Choice designation, 2000, both for Mr. McGratt and the Ornery Cat; Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books Choice designation, 2002, for Three Teeny Tiny Tales; Canada Toy-testing Council Great Book Award, 2005, for Funtime Riddles; numerous prizes in adult short-story contests.

Writings

The Boy, the Dollar, and the Wonderful Hat, Stoddard Kids (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1992.

Boathouse Treasure, Thomas Nelson (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1998.

Fog Cat, illustrated by Paul Mombourquette, Kids Can Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1998.

Mr. McGratt and the Ornery Cat, illustrated by Martine Gourbault, Kids Can Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1999.

Dinosaurs on the Beach, Orca Book Publishers (Custer, WA), 2003.

One Splendid Tree, illustrated by Dianne Eastman, Kids Can Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2005.

Contributor of articles, stories and poems to juvenile periodicals and anthologies, including Cricket, Spider, Chirp, Chickadee, Children's Playmate, Humpty Dumpty, Hopscotch, Children's Digest, and Jack and Jill.

"ONCE-UPON-A-TIME" SERIES

(Reteller) Three Tales of Three, illustrated by Chris Jackson, Kids Can Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2000.

(Reteller) Three Prince Charming Tales, illustrated by Kasia Charko, Kids Can Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2000.

(Reteller) Three Teeny Tiny Tales, illustrated by Veselina Tomova, Kids Can Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2001.

(Reteller) Three Tales of Enchantment, illustrated by Kasia Charko, Kids Can Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2001.

(Reteller) Three Barnyard Tales, illustrated by Laura Watson, Kids Can Press (Tonawanda, NY), 2002.

(Reteller) Three Tales of Trickery, illustrated by Noushin Pajouhesh, Kids Can Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2002.

(Reteller) Three Tuneful Tales, illustrated by Kasia Charko, Kids Can Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2003.

(Reteller) Three Royal Tales, illustrated by Dianna Bonder, Kids Can Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2003.

(Reteller) Three Cat and Mouse Tales, illustrated by Josée Masse, Kids Can Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2004.

(Reteller) Three Tales of Adventure, illustrated by Joe Weissmann, Kids Can Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2004.

RIDDLE BOOKS

Critter Riddles, illustrated by Eric Parker, Kids Can Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2003.

Yummy Riddles, illustrated by Eric Parker, Kids Can Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2003.

Spooky Riddles, illustrated by Eric Parker, Kids Can Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2003.

Yucky Riddles, illustrated by Eric Parker, Kids Can Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2003.

Funtime Riddles, illustrated by Jane Kurisu, Kids Can Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2004.

Recess Riddles, illustrated by Jane Kurisu, Kids Can Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2004.

Work in Progress

Picture books, early readers, and humorous poetry and short stories for children's magazines.

Sidelights

Canadian author Marilyn Helmer began her writing career publishing short stories and poems for children in juvenile magazines. Since the release of her first book in 1992, she has become a successful author of books for beginning readers, and has also produced several award-winning picture books, including the highly praised Fog Cat. One of Helmer's long-range projects has been her "Once-upon-a-Time" series of traditional folk and fairy tales, each volume containing a trio of theme-related stories. Another is her series of riddle books that encourage beginning readers with few words per page and eye-catching illustrations. Titles such as Spooky Riddles and Critter Riddles clue readers in to the subject matter. "Helmer's delightful word spinning is filled with imagination and wit," noted School Library Journal contributor Cynde Suite of the series, while Booklist reviewer Hazel Rochman praised Helmer's "hilarious puns" and cited the series for illustrating "the fun of reading."

In The Boy, the Dollar, and the Wonderful Hat, her first picture book, Helmer tells the story of a young boy named Benno, who travels to the fair with his father. His father gives Benno a dollar, telling the boy to choose carefully between riding on the midway, buying treats or souvenirs, and taking a pony ride. Clever Benno buys a hat and with his hat manages to get a little of everything the fair has to offer. Reviewers found much to like about the picture book. Children "will be tickled by Helmer's plot," predicted Quill & Quire critic Janet McNaughton, who also commended Helmer's "lively" writing. Kay Kerman, writing in Canadian Review of Materials, dubbed the book "a fine example of how children can be creative problem solvers." "Helmer's moving celebration of a young child's ingenuity and resourcefulness is narrated with economy and precision," remarked Ajay Heble in Canadian Children's Literature, the critic concluding that The Boy, the Dollar, and the Wonderful Hat "is genuinely a wonderful book."

The multi-award-winning Fog Cat revolves around a young girl named Hannah, who lives alone with her grandfather in a fishing village on the eastern seaboard. When Hannah discovers a stray cat living on the beach, she tries to make the wild animal her pet. Commenting on the "spirited, lyrical prose" and "sensitive, unsentimental story," Annette Goldsmith in Quill & Quire deemed Fog Cat a "beautifully produced, thoroughly engaging picture book." In Resource Links Isobel Lang also praised the work, noting that Helmer's story is "realistic and seeded with nice touches of humour," and the "positive and strong relationship" between the girl and her grandfather also has much to offer young listeners.

In Funtime Riddles and her assortment of other collections of wordplay, Marilyn Helmer encourages reluctant readers to tackle basic vocabulary by presenting an engaging text with a humorous twist. (Illustration by Jane Kurisu.)

Helmer draws on her skills as a storyteller in creating her "Once-upon-a-Time" series of picture books. Divided by subject into such volumes as Three Barnyard Tales, Three Prince Charming Tales, and Three Cat and Mouse Tales, the books each feature three traditional stories retold by the author. While several critics noted that Helmer drains some of the violence and terror from the original versions to make them more enjoyable for young children, in Resource Links Denise Parrott commented that Helmer "chooses language true to the oral tradition" and provides "a good story." Commenting on Three Teeny Tiny Tales, which includes retellings of "The Elves and the Shoemaker," "Thumbelina," and "The Gingerbread Man," Helmer provides readers with "a useful starting point" for classroom discussions of the themes that run throughout much Western folklore, according to Jill McClay, who added in her Resource Links review that the book's prose is "sufficiently bright and direct to engage contemporary young readers."

Helmer is inspired to write in order to "share my love of books with other people, especially children," as she once commented. "Of my many interests, the two which have had the most significant influence on my life are reading and collecting .… As a teenager, I began collecting old souvenir spoons and postcards. Curiosity about their origin and the events and people they commemorate prompted me to do some research. Years later, my first published writing was a series of articles on antiques. When my children were born, it was natural for me to share my love of books with them. To my delight they enjoyed being read to as much as I enjoyed reading to them. I rediscovered old friends I hadn't read in years and my children introduced me to new ones.

"I write on such a wide variety of topics that it is difficult to pinpoint a general inspiration. I write articles because I enjoy doing research, poetry because I love the rhythm of words, and retellings of traditional tales because I am impressed by their longevity. Pinpointing my inspiration for my books is a little easier. My love of the sea and cats were the inspiration for Fog Cat. My enthusiasm for antiques and intriguing old buildings and a similar childhood experience resulted in Boathouse Treasure. A combination of the fascination of a country fair and a child's ingenuity led to The Boy, the Dollar, and the Wonderful Hat. My book Mr. McGratt and the Ornery Cat was inspired by my own twenty-year-old very ornery feline. Fossils, dinosaurs, and the possibility of making a fabulous find were the influences for Dinosaurs on the Beach. My interest in World War II, especially life on the homefront, creted the setting of One Splendid Tree. The story ocombines my love of Christmas with my belief in the creativity and optimism of children, even when they are going through a difficult time. "In addition to her writing career, Helmer is a member of a Canadian storytellers' guild, and she shares both traditional tales and her original stories with young listeners.

Helmer retells the story of Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, and Rumpelstiltskin in her story collection Three Tales of Trickery. (Illustration by Noushin Pajouhesh.)

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Booklist, March 15, 1999, Linda Perkins, review of Fog Cat, p. 1333; July, 2001, Carolyn Phelan, review of Three Teeny Tiny Tales, p. 2013; September 15, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of Spooky Riddles, p. 242; January 1, 2004, Ilene Cooper, review of Yucky Riddles, p. 864; June 1, 2004, Hazel Rochman, review of Funtime Riddles and Recess Riddles, p. 1935.

Canadian Children's Literature, summer, 1997, Ajay Heble, review of The Boy, the Dollar. and the Wonderful Hat, pp. 64-68.

Canadian Review of Materials, October, 1992, Kay Kerman, review of The Boy, the Dollar, and the Wonderful Hat, p. 262.

Publishers Weekly, March 15, 1999, review of Fog Cat, p. 58.

Quill & Quire, August, 1992, Janet McNaughton, review of The Boy, the Dollar, and the Wonderful Hat, p. 24; September, 1998, Annette Goldsmith, review of Fog Cat, p. 66.

Resource Links, February, 1999, Isobel Lang, review of Fog Cat, p. 3; June, 2001, Jill McClay, review of Three Teeny Tiny Tales, p. 2; April, 2001, Denise Parrott, review of Three Barnyard Tales, p. 6; June, 2003, Judy Cotrell, review of Three Tuneful Tales, p. 5, and Deb Nielsen, review of Dinosaurs on the Beach, p. 12; April, 2004, Ann Ketcheson, review of Three Cat and Mouse Tales, p. 4.

School Library Journal, December, 1999, review of Mr. McGratt and the Ornery Cat; February, 2001, Susan Hepler, review of Three Tales of Three and Three Prince Charming Tales, p. 112; June, 2001, Bina Williams, review of Three Teeny Tiny Tales, p. 137; February, 2003, Grace Oliff, review of Three Tales of Trickery, p. 132; May, 2003, Cynde Suite, review of Critter Riddles and Yummy Riddles, p. 136; May, 2004, Cynde Suite, review of Funtime Riddles and Recess Riddles, p. 132; July, 2004, Linda M. Kenton, review of Three Cat and Mouse Tales, p. 94.

ONLINE

Canadian Society of Children's Authors, Illustrators, and Performers Web site, http://www.canscaip.org/ (April 10, 2005), "Marilyn Helmer."*

Marilyn Helmer Home Page, http://www.home.cogeco.ca/~ghelmer1/mghelmer_home.html (May 5, 2005).

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