Helen L. Williamson
from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. For many years she taught creative writing in Charlottesville, Virginia, where she lives with her husband. She is the author of Tales from Balladhoon, A Pineapple Dream and Other Nonsense, Higgledy-Piggledy Thoughts, I Just Met a Dinosaur, and Adventures in Dinglewood.
Learn more about Helen and her work by visiting her website and her Facebook page!
I Just Met a Dinosaur!
A book of dinosaur rhymes about creatures from long-ago times!
written by Helen L. Williamson
illustrated by Nancy Taylor Atkins
If you met a dinosaur, what would you do?
Play hide-and-seek or go to the zoo?
Who knows if their skin was pink, purple, or blue?
Or if they squawked, roared, or mooed?
Did they polish their nails and feathers and scales,
And sharpen their teeth with the ends of their tails?
When you open this book of dinosaur rhymes,
You’ll meet some of those creatures from long-ago times!
Adventures in Dinglewood
written by Helen Williamson
illustrated by Nancy Atkins
If you are in a hurry, you might pass by Dinglewood without paying much attention. But if you listen carefully, you just might hear the pitter-patter of small feet and the chattering of tiny voices. Turn the page—There’s a world of adventure here in Dinglewoodfor you to discover!
More About Helen L. Williamson
Imagination and storytelling go deep into Helen’s roots. She grew up in Ireland where she says that the history of telling tales leads to a rich tradition of creation and a healthy level of mysticism. She says there are things which of course everyone knows such as “fairies live in hollow trees, and particularly at the bottom of a garden,” and, “Fairy trees are hawthorn trees, and if you cut them down you get in trouble with the fairies. That’s just the law of the land.” As someone who grew up in America, I’m unfamiliar with particular set of rules, and I make a mental note to check my trees when I get home because I wouldn’t want to upset the fairies who might be living there without my knowledge.
Helen illustrates the real ramifications of dismissing these well-known legends. She tells me that in her hometown, they decided to cut down a ring of trees in the middle of a field to build a new church. Most people in the town were against the idea. Of course, set-apart tree rings were the dwelling places of fairies. But, the church went up anyway, only to collapse two years later. “I mean, what do you expect?” Helen says with a shrug. This blurry line between stark reality and fantastical stories is one Helen loves to walk. She grew up telling herself stories to get to sleep, and always felt that those last fuzzy moments of consciousness were the feeling of being carried off to fairyland. Her father told her stories of his own invention about the journeys of Johnny McGlory, who became the central character in one of her own books, Tales from Balladhoon. Once she became a mother, she began to invent her own stories to entertain her children and later her grandchildren.
Helen credits all of her tales and her desire to tell them to her children and grandchildren. Her role as a mother and grandmother is integral to her role as an author because, “I’ve got someone to tell stories to.” She hadn’t truly considered writing her years’ worth of oral stories down until her family began to beg her to. Now with her books in hand, she’s been able to go and read to the classrooms of her grandchildren, which inspires a special kind of joy in her heart.
Helen especially loves the raw creativity of working with children, “A lot of children have seen leprechauns and fairies. Some have seen fairies riding butterflies. Some have seen them ten feet tall.” She always encourages the children to create their own tales, tell their own stories. Each reading she makes sure to ask the children questions such as “How would a leprechaun get from Ireland to America?” and delight in the tumult of creativity, energy, and invention that follows. She hopes her writing propels their imaginations, “It encourages them to write. And to listen. And to think out of the box.”
Of the four books Helen has written, three have been poetry books for children, Higgly-Piggly Thoughts, Pineapple Dreams and Other Nonsense, and I Just Met a Dinosaur. Originally, I balked at the idea of reading poetry to children. Poems are complicated things with layers upon layers of difficult-to-dissect meanings, right? “Rhyming words are just fun,” Helen says with a wide smile, “I would like children to love the magic of words. And the sounds. And the music of words. And to make up their own. Not be afraid to make and imagine things.” Helen’s poems are full of made-up rhymes and “nonsense,” a descriptor she flaunts with a sense of relish and pride. The words are music and that comes before and often in place of meaning. Helen’s poems bounce and slide, pop and simmer when read aloud. As I read them in her kitchen over a fresh cup of tea, the meanings didn’t matter because no meaning could compare to the delight of feeling the words roll off my tongue.
But, words are not the only morsel of magic in Helen’s work: her books are also beautifully and fancifully illustrated by her friend, Nancy Taylor. Helen’s love of Nancy and her drawings abounds as she proudly shows me picture after picture. I mention I spent some time traveling around in a van, and Helen leaps up to show me an illustration of a pelican perched atop a VW bus covered in feathers and scales. Helen impresses upon me that the illustrations are vital to the poems, “The little ones look at them very, very carefully, the illustrations, if you’ve ever watched them reading.” She considers herself lucky to have Nancy because, “I think very visually which I think Nancy interprets so well.” She says once she’s written something she likes, she’ll simply send the poem off to Nancy, and she’s always been delighted with what she receives back. Just the way children use Helen’s characters and words to make up their own stories, she says she often gets drawings from children about the poems they’ve read and the stories they’ve heard.
Helen is especially nervous and excited about her upcoming book Adventures in Dinglewood which will feature the many daring adventures of two little mice, Arabella and Jasper. This daring duo have magic pepper pot pepper underwater adventures, thaw frozen fairy wings, and travel to the isle of dreams on the back of the black bird Cornelius. These characters and tales are particularly dear to her because she’s been telling them to her family for decades. “When they were littler, they [her grandchildren] used to all pile into our bed when we went to visit and say, ‘Granny! Tell me a story!’ So, I had to make them up on the spot.” Now, she’s very excited to let other children experience their magic and can’t wait to see what adventures her readers will make up for themselves.
As I ready myself to leave Helen’s kitchen four cups of tea, two cookies, two slices of bread, a bowl of soup, and several introductions to family and friends later, I’m sad that I have to leave her world of possibility and enchantment. I thank her for her stories, and she thanks me for my company before asking if I think I’ve got all I needed. Thinking back over the past three and a half hours, I say I can certainly write something. Helen smiles and in her particularly mischievous way says, “Well, you can always make something up!”