Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Kenyon native turns to writing children’s books after MS diagnosis December 4, 2015

WRITER DEBBIE ESTREM’S childhood parallels mine. We both grew up on farms—she near Kenyon in southeastern Minnesota and me 150 miles to the west in Redwood County. She, though, moved into town, unlike me.


It's Summertime Book Cover


Because of our similar upbringings, I understand her connection to and appreciation for the simple things in life. I see that focus and a strong rural Minnesota influence in her children’s picture books, especially in It’s Summertime, the first volume in a seasonal-themed series. An autumn book, A Time for Fall Fun, just published with the remaining two seasonal titles due to release in 2016.


Firefly book cover


Her other self-published picture books include Have you ever seen a firefly? and Sights at the Zoo.

Of the three books Debbie sent for possible review, I am focusing here on It’s Summertime. I feel most connected, memory-wise, to the content. Debbie writes from a child’s perspective, showcasing outdoor summer activities such as picnicking, swimming, biking, jumping rope, blowing bubbles and attending the county fair.

It’s refreshing to read a book like this that emphasizes mostly unstructured play and family togetherness. I’m all for kids playing on their own, using their imaginations in unscheduled, unorganized free time.

Debbie’s writing, paired with the art of New Jersey illustrator Kim Sponaugle, makes It’s Summertime a delightful book that is visually and nostalgically appealing. The artist, according to her website, “is known for her bright, colorful style and lovable character expressions that give her illustrations warmth and delight.” Her drawings of happy children transport me to the carefree days of my childhood, back to memories of playing hopscotch at Vesta Elementary School and savoring sugary mini donuts at the Redwood County Fair.

While Kim holds an art degree, Debbie’s educational background is in business. However, she started writing poetry in 2003 and turned to penning children’s picture books after being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2010. Unable to continue working and volunteering, Debbie decided to focus on something positive. And for her, that was writing children’s picture books.

Kevin and Debbie Estrem in 2013. Photo courtesy of Debbie Estrem.

Kevin and Debbie Estrem in 2013. Photo courtesy of Debbie Estrem.

Ten percent of each book sale goes toward researching MS, specifically to the Colorado-Wyoming Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Debbie lives in Colorado Springs with her husband and childhood sweetheart, Kevin Estrem, who is retired from an Air Force career.


book cover


In Sights at the Zoo, Debbie weaves the topic of disabilities into the storyline, helping children to understand why someone uses a wheelchair, walker or other assistive device. The couple’s daughter, Cassi, whose first job out of college focused on researching the cause of MS, suggested her mother write the book. Having once used a cane and walker myself following hip replacement surgery, I appreciate this addition to the story. Debbie currently uses a wheelchair or motorized chair to get around.

This author is hoping, she says, that “discoveries are made for both the cause (of MS) and a cure in my lifetime.”


Fall book cover


IF YOU ARE INTERESTED in purchasing one of Debbie’s picture books, visit the Halo Publishing International website by clicking here.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Book cover images courtesy of Debbie Estrem. Cover art by Kim Sponaugle.


24 Responses to “Kenyon native turns to writing children’s books after MS diagnosis”

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    I love those illustrations and the story lines would be great for any child to read. Thanks for sharing Debbie with us today. 🙂

  2. Littlesundog Says:

    What bright and happy illustrations!! We need positive focus like this in today’s world!

  3. Jackie Says:

    Those illustrations are the best, I may have to look into these books for my Grandkids. It’s certainly a wonderful cause, as work with patients everyday who are being diagnosed with MS. Thanks for sharing this author with us.

  4. Your post makes me want to go outside and play and let my imagination run wild – Great story lines and illustrations – proceeds to a Great Cause too 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing – Happy Weekend – Enjoy!

  5. Don Says:

    Children don’t realize how good they’ve got it!

    Nice looking books, going to Barnes & Noble this weekend and I will look/ask them for it. Grandkids need some Christmas presents that are NOT repeat NOTelectronic!

  6. Don Says:

    Grandkids, 1 in 1st grade 2nd will start Kindergarten next fall. Books sound like they will fit the bill nicely!

  7. hotlyspiced Says:

    Great review, Audrey. I love the sound of these books and the covers are gorgeous. It sounds like the author writes beautifully for children with caring and sensitive topics xx

  8. Bella Says:

    What a nice tribute to the author and her books. I admire her spirit to take on writing projects to channel her energies to produce these fun books. I can see why you connect with her background with similar upbringing.

  9. estremdj Says:

    Thank you for all the encouraging, kind comments for Kim and me! We hoped it would bring back wonderful memories for adults and begin warm conversations between adult and child. There are always fun activities to do outside like we did when we were young-away from electronics.

    My “A Time For Fall Fun” is available now too. Can contact me for books.

    My “Winter Wonderland” seasonal book will be available in early 2016.
    Feel free to contact me for signed books. I have them here at my house ready to go.
    Thank you Audrey for sharing my story.

  10. estremdj Says:

    Reblogged this on Have You Ever Seen A Firefly? and commented:
    Love the comments….
    Thanks Audrey!!!
    You were sweet to share my story.

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