Becker, Helaine 1961-

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BECKER, Helaine 1961-

PERSONAL: Born August 9, 1961, in Plainview, NY; daughter of Aaron (a science publisher) and Arlene (a teacher; maiden name, Eber) Becker; married Karl Szasz (a chief executive officer), June 29, 1986; children: Michael Szasz, Andrew Szasz. Ethnicity: "Human." Education: Duke University, B.Sc. (history; cum laude), 1983. Hobbies and other interests: Swimming, ice dancing, running, cycling, karate, cooking, reading, gardening, "a profound interest in an active, involved, committed life!"

ADDRESSES: Home—252 Snowdon Ave., Toronto, Ontario M4N 2B3, Canada. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Edusource/Concepts in Learning, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, owner, 1986-96; McClelland & Stewart (publishers), Toronto, copywriter, 1988-90; Renaissance Solutions, Toronto, consultant, 1996-2001; Louise Kool & Galt, Toronto, director of sales and marketing, 2001-02.

MEMBER: Canadian Association of Children's Authors, Illustrators, and Performers.

AWARDS, HONORS: Recommended Reading selection, Ontario Elementary Teachers' Federation, and Our Choice selection, Canadian Children's Book Centre, both 2002, both for Mama Likes to Mambo.


Spelling Puzzlers for Grade 1 (professional edition), Rigby (Barrington, IL), 2000.

Mama Likes to Mambo (verse), illustrated by John Beder, Stoddart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2001.

John Brown (biography), Blackbirch (Woodbridge, CT), 2001.

Frederick Douglass (biography), Blackbirch (Woodbridge, CT), 2001.

Contributor of educational material to publishers, including Scott Resources, Spectrum Publishers, and Mad Science, Inc., and to Chirp magazine.

ADAPTATIONS: "Ode to Underwear" was recorded as a zydeco tune by the Irish Descendants.

SIDELIGHTS: Helaine Becker has published two young adult biographies and a collection of poems, in addition to numerous works of educational material for students and teachers. Her biography of American abolitionist Frederick Douglass covers the entirety of the influential man's life, devoting half of its pages to his young life as a slave, his escape to freedom, and the development of his career as a leader of the antislavery movement. The last part of the volume places Douglass' political activism in the context of his time and place.

Becker's Mama Likes to Mambo contains sixteen poems. "The poems are funny, and Becker obviously enjoyed writing them," remarked Kathy Broderick in Booklist. The author plays with language effectively, reviewers noted, including inventing evocative words in order to achieve a rhyme and creating poems whose shape reflects the subject of the poem. The poems are envisioned by illustrator John Beder with animal characters. "If Helaine Becker continues writing poetry," Canadian Materials contributor Ian Stewart predicted, "she will surely join the ranks of Canada's most popular and important children's authors."

Becker told CA: "I've been a writer since the age of five, when I wrote my first poem. It was terrible. My second poem, at the age of six, was not much better. But it remains in my mind chiefly because my grade one teacher corrected it! That bugged me.

"By grade five, my favourite song was The Beatles' 'I Wanna Be a Paperback Writer.' In the next few years, I had a few poems published in the Nassau County Public Library's Literary Journal, and I wrote my first 'chapter book,' which received thundering acclaim from the kid next door. After that, I experienced a long literary dearth, while I embarked on the more 'sensible' path of chasing boys, finishing school, and doing lots of travel with a smelly old backpack.

"Many years, a husband, two kids, and a dog later, I realized I could as much give up writing as give up chocolate. Ideas for stories and poems would come to me at the dinner table, in the office, while driving, or on the Stairmaster. I started writing again and now know that whether or not my poems or books are published, I am a writer, a real writer, down to my toes. It's who I am, not what I do.

"Why do I write? Because I can't help it. Ideas pop into my head from some outer cosmos, and I have to write them down or bust. What do I write? In general, stuff that makes me laugh, stuff that celebrates the incredible joyfulness of existence. I find life to be a fascinating, exciting box of candy to be explored, grabbed with two hands, and gobbled down whole. 'No shame, no pride' is my motto. This way of thinking has enabled me to tackle a wide variety of new challenges such as learning how to mambo and ice dance in my thirties, getting my orange belt in karate the year I turned forty, and going from a determined couch rat to a ten-kilometer runner. It's also taught me to persist in the face of failure, such as 101 rejection letters from publishers. I now know that the only kind of true failure is the failure to try. So—pardon the pun—I'm a trying kind of gal!

"An unexpected reward from returning to writing has been the pleasure I get from reading and performing for children. I am a regular presenter to schools and have 'performed' at Toronto's Children's Museum. I have so much fun with the kids and adore sharing my joy in words and in life with them."



Booklist, September 15, 2002, Kathy Broderick, review of Mama Likes to Mambo, p. 236.

Canadian Materials, March 15, 2002, Ian Stewart, review of Mama Likes to Mambo.

Resource Links, February, 2002, Valerie Pollock, review of Mama Likes to Mambo, p. 2.

School Library Journal, April, 2002, Starr E. Smith, review of Frederick Douglass, p. 163; May, 2002, Marian Creamer, review of Mama Likes to Mambo, p. 134.


Canadian Association of Children's Authors, Illustrators, and Performers Web site, (May 16, 2003), biography of Helaine Becker.