Three Questions With Helaine Becker

In each installment of Three Questions With we ask a different PJ Library author or illustrator questions about their work, their process, and interests. Today we're chatting with Helaine Becker, author of more than 80 books for children. In addition to our usual three questions, you can also find a bonus question with some insider info about the new books Helaine is coming out with next.

Helaine Becker

You’ve written more than 80 books and you have five new titles coming out this year – how do you keep up the momentum?

I hate housework. I figure as long as I am writing, I have an excuse for never ever doing laundry. Dusting? Feh. Digging into the Theory of Relativity or dinosaur evolution? I'm all over it. I also have a ridiculous amount of curiosity and the supernatural ability to sit at my desk for hours without moving.  Oh, and I love to eat. Writing pays the bills, and the more I write, the better the wine and cheese.

When did you know that you wanted to be an author?

From the moment I read my first book independently. I was one of those kids who read voraciously. Then, inspired, I would sit down and take a stab at writing my own scary story, sensitive poem, or comic novel about a kid that talks too much…ahem. I remember in second grade dragooning my friends into putting on a puppet show based on a story I read in a collection of Japanese folk tales (The Magic Listening Cap - the book is still on my office shelf!)

I talked myself out of the idea of a writing career in junior high (see answer to next question). I didn't start writing professionally until 2000. That's how long it took to regain my confidence after the torment of junior high.

The Magic Listening Cap
The Magic Listening Cap

If you could go back in time and give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?

Get out of your own navel. Quit worrying so much about what other people think - those kids in your class who are jerks will almost always be jerks. You won't ever win their approval by jumping through hoops (or if you do, it will be hollow because see:jerks). And the interesting people, the kind people, are not spending their lives picking you apart. They're doing fun things, following their own interests. Now, thanks to Facebook, I've had the opportunity to get back in touch with my classmates from elementary school and junior high (I grew up on Long Island, and now live in Canada, so I don't ever bump into people I knew way-back-when on the streets). And here's what I found out - the kids I liked then, the ones that were smart and interesting and kind, are STILL smart and interesting and kind. The others? Let's just say we don't share the same politics.

And a bonus question -- what’s next for you?

So you know I'm typing pretty well non-stop….therefore there are quite a few books in the pipeline. Megabugs (2019, KCP)  is a look at the prehistoric ancestors and relatives  of insects  - they were HUGE and HORRIFYING. A picture book biography called The Pirate Queen about Ching Shih, the most powerful pirate that ever lived (2019, Groundwood). And another picture book bio about Emmy Noether, a Jewish mathematician WHO'S AS IMPORTANT AS EINSTEIN (2020, KCP).  Her own revolutionary theorem irrevocably changed how scientists understand the universe. What? You never heard of her? That's because other people took credit for her work because she was a woman. Harumph.  I hope my book will help change that! Also a dinosaur taxonomy book, a gay socialist retelling of Aesop's "The Ant and The Grasshopper," and an outdoor activity book. And a few books for PJ Library of course!

Helaine Becker is the bestselling author of more than 80 books for children, including the #1 Canadian national bestseller,  A Porcupine in a Pine Tree, the giggle-inducing You Can Read, and the award-winning STEM biography,  Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13. She’s a multi-time winner of the Silver Birch Award and Lane Anderson Award for Science Writing. 

Helaine volunteers regularly for brain research and for literacy organizations including First Book. She’s also a certified pyrotechnician, so expect fireworks at any time.