"I love your uniforms. They are very attractive!" said Helen Lester at last week's Lower School assembly. The girls were not in their usual uniform plaid, rather, they had been awarded a "tacky" civvies in a nod to Mrs. Lester's series of Tacky the Penguin books.
"I didn't always think I'd be an author," said Mrs. Lester, "I wrote backwards for my first three grades of school and didn't like writing." But after 10 years of teaching second grade, she took some time off, but kept thinking of all the kids she'd taught through the years. "Would you like to meet my students?" she asked, before putting up a drawing of Tacky the penguin, along with his friends, Goodly, Lovely, Neatly, Angel, and Perfect. It was her students who inspired almost all the characters in her books including Tacky, the good-natured oddball penguin, Buddy, the bunny who wasn't a very good listener despite his great big ears, and Fragility the hippo who could dissolve in tears over any perceived slight. One notable exception was Wodney Wombat, who was inspired by her husband Robin Lester, retired head of Trinity School; through much of his childhood, Mr. Lester pronounced his name as "Wobin Wester."
Mrs. Lester also told the girls a bit about her writing process. "Writing is like doing a doing a maze. Not everything is going to work out," she said. If you feel like you have writers' block, remember "you're not stuck, you're just thinking and making your way through that maze." The girls were surprised to learn that despite authoring more than 25 books, Mrs. Lester doesn't have a desk. Instead she writes wherever she is and even wrote one of her books on the back of a grocery list—though it did take her three months to write the perfect ending.
As a former elementary school teacher, Mrs. Lester definitely knew her audience. She closed out the assembly by getting the girls (and their teachers) on their feet to practice some of Tacky's signature dance moves.