Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A bedtime story from the Kenyon Police Department January 9, 2017

my-daddy-snores

 

I’VE WRITTEN HERE before about the Kenyon Police Department Facebook page. It’s a feel-good innovative use of social media. Truly positive and refreshing.

Now there’s one more reason to love this Facebook page. Officer Goodman (a puppet) has joined the KPD family. He makes his debut this evening by reading a children’s picture book, My Daddy Snores written by Nancy Rothstein and illustrated by Stephen Gilpin.

This might just be a new bed-time routine for you and your kids. Or you. There’s something comforting about a police officer puppet reading a story as if he’s a schooled children’s librarian. Or simply a police chief who continues to care deeply for others. That would be Kenyon Police Chief Lee Sjolander.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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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.

 

A Farm Country Thanksgiving November 24, 2010

The third book in the Farm Country series.

WHENEVER I OPEN one of Lakeville author Gordon Fredrickson’s books, I feel like I’m stepping back in time to my childhood on a southwestern Minnesota dairy farm.

I’m thankful for Fredrickson, who understands the value in preserving the history of small family farms. Because he was raised on a Scott County dairy farm and farmed for awhile as an adult with his wife, Nancy, Fredrickson gets his 1950s era farm stories right.

Last night I snuggled up in the recliner with his latest children’s picture book, A Farm Country Thanksgiving. I thought it would be a fairly quick read, but I was wrong.

I didn’t whiz through this story told from the viewpoint of 10-year-old farm boy Jimmy. Rather, I savored every rhyming word by Fredrickson and every detailed illustration by Michaelin Otis.

I was the one sledding down the hill. I was the one with snow stuffed down my neck by my older brother. I was pitching silage down the silo chute, eating banana-filled Jell-O, sitting at the kids’ table on Thanksgiving…

If you grew up on a farm in the 1950s and 1960s, you absolutely must read this book and Fredrickson’s other Farm Country series stories about Halloween and Christmas. He’s also published three If I Were a Farmer books.

I guarantee that you will feel all warm and fuzzy and nostalgic and want to dig out the old photo albums or reminisce with your siblings.

I noticed the ear flapper caps, the buckle overshoes, the checkerboard ringed silo (just like the one on my childhood farm), the old runner sled—book illustrations that are as accurate as photographs. The only difference: My albums hold black-and-white snapshots.

Fredrickson captures the essence of family, of hard work, of rural life. He understands that these are worth preserving. But his efforts to save our rural heritage extend beyond his books. This writer travels across Minnesota, and sometimes out of state, presenting his message to school children, senior citizens and others. He dresses the part of a 1950s farmer in bib overalls, brings farm props, talks and reads from his books.

I will tell you too that Fredrickson and his wife, Nancy, are as genuine and kind-hearted and as down-to-earth good as they come. My husband and I lunched with the couple this past summer. Although we had never met before then, having corresponded only via e-mail, I felt as comfortable with the Fredricksons as if I had known them for years. They are truly my kind of without pretenses folks.

 

I snapped this image of the Fredricksons after lunching with them in August.

I must also point out to you that Fredrickson gives me a plug on the back cover of his Thanksgiving book. He has pulled a quote from a book review I wrote. But that has absolutely nothing to do with the praise I am directing toward him here. He has earned his praise by writing these books, complete with glossaries (after I suggested a glossary), that forever preserve life on the family farm.

I thank him for taking on this project with a passion rooted deep in the land.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Book cover image courtesy of Gordon Fredrickson

 

It’s OK if you don’t have pickle bumps September 23, 2010

I’LL ADMIT TO MORE than a bit of skepticism about a children’s picture book titled Pickle Bumps for Baby Dill. “What kind of book is that?” I wondered before calling the author, Bob Fulton.

Well, exactly as the title suggests, this is a story about Baby Dill, a pickle born without bumps. But that’s not all. You see, after speaking with Fulton and upon reading his book, I learned the real purpose. And it’s much more than a story about cute, talking pickles.

Fulton delivers a strong message via the Dill family and Baby Dill’s friends. The message: “It’s OK to be different.”

That’s a message especially fitting for this time of year, the beginning of school.

I would speculate that many students have, in recent weeks, felt like they don’t quite fit in with their classmates. Maybe they aren’t wearing the latest fashions. Maybe they’re in a new school, struggling to make friends. Maybe they’re shy, quiet. Maybe their hair or their skin is the “wrong” color. Maybe they’re struggling with learning.

Maybe, like Baby Dill, they wonder why they are different from everyone else.

Fulton addresses that concern, which leads the Dill family on a shopping trip for pickle bumps. In the end, Baby Dill decides, with the support of his friends, that he would rather remain bump less.

While Fulton’s story has a positive ending, I know that isn’t always reality. In real life, kids bully, tease, make fun of, pick on, humiliate—whatever words you want to choose—those who are different. For all too many kids, there are no understanding friends to stand by and support them.

A book like Fulton’s offers encouragement. “We like you just the way you are,” Baby Dill’s friends tell him. That’s a message that needs to reverberate through-out our schools, our homes, our communities.

Pickle Bumps for Baby Dill would be a good addition to any elementary school classroom or library. While aimed at preschoolers and lower elementary students, the story also appeals to 10 – 12-year-olds, Fulton says. Having experienced bullying myself while in junior high school, I applaud any efforts to help students, parents and teachers address the issue.

The college educator—he taught chemistry for 39 years at St. John’s University and The College of Saint Benedict—has even added a list of 12 questions at the end of his book to prompt discussion.

He shares, too, that his book evolved from telling stories to his grandchildren and a specific request from his youngest grandson to “Tell us a story about a pickle.”

Fulton did and then put his tale into writing in Pickle Bumps for Baby Dill, published by Pickle Bump Press. Melissa Meyer, originally from Saint Joseph, Minn., illustrated the book.

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AS A SIDE NOTE, please be aware that October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Check out the PACER Center Web site for information that can help you address bullying. Perhaps by working together, through understanding and listening and empathy, we can help reduce the bullying that is all too prevalent in our society, especially in our schools.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling