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Eagle Valley elementary school celebrates Night of 1,000 Stars

Author Helen Lester explains to a group of Eagle Valley Elementary School students where her ideas come from. Lester was the featured author for the school's Night of 1,000 Stars.
Randy Wyrick|randy@vaildaily.com |

EAGLE — Helen Lester wanted to join the circus, but she wasn’t very good at sports.

“That led to teaching, and teaching led to writing,” she said.

She smiles as she tells you she spent 10 years in the second grade … as a teacher.

Lester might be the most regular famous person you’ll ever meet. If you don’t think she’s famous, tell your kids you’ve never heard of her “Tacky the Penguin” books, and watch them set new indoor world records for eye rolling.

Lester was the featured author for Eagle Valley Elementary School’s Night of 1,000 Stars. She is the author of “Tacky the Penguin” and “Hooway for Wodney Wat,” and she was in EVES for a full day and a couple of days in other schools, talking to groups of students about being a writer.

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“The schools here were wonderful in the way they prepared the students,” she said.

During her presentations in schools she takes questions from kids, identifying kids usually by the color of their shirt. Such as, “the young woman in the blue shirt.” Invariably, the kids with their hands in the air look down to see what color shirt they’re wearing.

Breaking barriers

Night of 1,000 Stars is a school and community event that’s a little like a congressional election, in that it rolls around every two years, but it’s way more productive.

Guest readers performed their favorite stories to students. While they were doing that, Lester spoke with parents about reading.

At the end of the evening, participating students got a new, free book.

Night of 1,000 Stars coincides with the school’s Tamale Project. That one started several years ago as a way to bring together Spanish-speaking and English-speaking parents. It’s a three-night tamale fest, and if you didn’t know how to make them before you started, then you will when you’re done.

“The cause, raising money by making tamales, is simply the means to an end,” said Tiffany Dougherty, EVES principal. “The ultimate goal is to break down barriers that tend to keep parent groups separated.”

‘You’re not stuck, You’re thinking’

Lester has written around three dozen children’s books — she’s not certain about the number, but it’s more than 30 and she promises to count them someday.

She can even write backwards. To prove it she stood at the board and wrote the word “backwards,” backwards.

It took her six tries to get her first book published. That was 35 years ago and even children’s books weren’t often printed in color.

“Only famous authors got color, and I wasn’t a famous author … yet,” she told a room filled with children sitting at rapt attention.

She learned all kinds of stuff. Children’s books are 32 pages long, because that’s how long the printing machine wants them to be.

Fan mail from kids tends to be amusing, telling her things like she’s their second favorite author.

She writes a book a year. She said she can write faster, but illustrator Lynn Munsinger can’t draw any faster.

She wrote a book on the back of a grocery list. She writes on notebook paper, computers — anything that will accept an impression from pencil or ink.

“Write everywhere,” she said.

Except she never writes at a desk.

“I like to be moving around. I do some of my best writing wandering around in the woods,” she told the students.

Not all the writing makes the cut. She keeps it because you never know what something will turn into.

She keeps it in what she calls her “fizzle box.” She has two of them and they live in the garage.

When she thinks she’s finished with a book, she sends it to her editor, thinking it’s “perfect, perfect, perfect.”

“My editor sends it back, informing me that it’s not ‘perfect, perfect, perfect,’” she said.

After she stopped teaching she found there was a lot she wanted to say.

“I would encourage you to write when you’re bored. Then you won’t be bored any more,” she said. “When you’re sitting there not seeming to be doing anything, it looks like you’re stuck. You’re not stuck. You’re thinking,” she said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vail daily.com.


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