Friday, July 10, 2015

Welcome to My Blog


Welcome! 

I’m the author of a dozen books for children including two new Christmas books. 

I was born on Labor Day and married on Memorial Day. I definitely love holidays, but that’s not all I write about. 

Want to learn more? I hope you’ll enjoy visiting my website to read . . .
  • Information about me
  • Information about each of my books 
  • My blog with thoughts about reading, writing, and roaming

I am the published author of a dozen children’s books and I’m always working on other manuscripts and thinking of other writing topics. I have written fiction, nonfiction, historical fiction, and board books.

I love holidays—I was born on Labor Day and married Bob on Memorial Day. Santa visits our home in San Diego every Christmas Eve. Maybe that’s one reason why I wrote two Christmas books! 

When I’m not reading, writing, and rhyming words I enjoy traveling. I’ve visited over 75 countries. When I’m home I enjoy hiking in the mountains with my friends where I’m a naturalist interpreter. I recently adopted a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail that wanders near our historic cabin in Cleveland National Forest. 

I also love finding interesting coffee spots with my buddy. We have a website with our coffee adventures. Visit www.coffeeinsandiego.com

I’m a former teacher, professor of children’s literature, and coordinator of library media services. I have a doctorate in educational administration.

That’s probably enough about me! If you need to contact me, email me. I’d love to hear from you! 

My best to you,

Dr. Helen Foster James

My Books

Christmas Books

Grandma’s Christmas Wish (Sleeping Bear Press, 2015)
“There is nothing like a grandmother’s love. This sweet story celebrates the special bond between grandma and grandchild at Christmas time. With a bedtime-friendly singsong rhythm and adorable holiday illustrations, this book is sure to charm children and grandmothers alike!”

Santa’s Christmas Train (Ideals Children’s Publishing, 2015)
All aboard! Santa’s Christmas train is coming to town, and children are welcomed aboard for a grand adventure to the North Pole. The lucky travelers get to see the sights along the way, the North Pole workshops, and, finally, Mrs. and Santa Claus themselves. The lively, humor-filled illustrations and lighthearted text will charm readers young and young at heart.”

Grandparent and Family Books

Grandma Loves You! (Sleeping Bear Press, 2013)
I wrote this book when I went to a store to by a book for a friend of mine for her Grandma Shower after her little grandson was born. I couldn’t find exactly what I wanted so I knew I had to write this book! 
      • San Diego Book Award Nominee, 2014

There Are More Grandparent and Parent Books Coming! 

Grandpa Loves You! To be published in February 2016

Mommy Loves You! Publication date TBA

With Love, Grandma Publication date TBA
  Grandma will be featured in another book where she writes letters to her grandchild. 

And, I have lots of other ideas I’m working on!

Nonfiction Books

E is for Enchantment: A New Mexico Alphabet (Sleeping Bear Press)
From the Ancient ones to the Zia sun on New Mexico’s flag, I present a short, four-line rhyme and a sidebar of expository text. It is beautifully illustrated by Neecy Twinem.
• The Willa Literary Award Nominee
• Land of Enchantment Book Award Finalist
• New Mexico State Legislative Gift Book
• New Mexico State Adopted Textbook

S is for S’mores: A Camping Alphabet (Sleeping Bear Press)
I started camping with I was four years old and met my husband on a camping trip. I HAD to write a book about camping! Letters from A to Z are presented with a little rhyme and a sidebar of expository text. It is beautifully illustrated by Lita Judge. 
• Elementary California Collection Listing
• San Diego Book Award Nominee

Historical Fiction 

Paper Son: Lee’s Journey to America with Virginia Shin-Mui Loh (Sleeping Bear Press, 2013)

* Booklist Star Review 
• Creative Child Award Preferred Choice Award, 2013
• Story Telling World Resource Award, 2014
• San Diego Book Award Winner, 2014
• Children's Book Committee Best Books, Center for Children's Literature, Bank Street College, 2014
• Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, 2014
• Picture Book Extravaganza, 2014 

Board Books

Each of my board books presents a rhyming riddle of a California or America topic. Turn the page to learn the answer.

Little California (Sleeping Bear Press)
Creative Child Board Book of the Year 

Little America (Sleeping Bear Press)
Creative Child Board Book of the Year

Nonfiction for Young Readers 

21st Century Basic Skills Library (Cherry Lake Publishing, 2015)
Splash! Discover Octopuses 
Splash! Discover Penguins 
Splash! Discover Sea Stars 
Splash! Discover Seahorses 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013





Childrens Bookstore Staff Review


Welcoming a new baby into the family is an important life event for a grandparent. Seeing the new generation enter the world is a time of celebration and reflection. Author Helen Foster James captures the emotions and experience of becoming a grandparent, more specifically a grandmother, in a beautiful and heart-felt poem to a new grandchild from his or her grandma.

The poem begins at the moment when the grandma bunny meets the new baby; "The moment I saw you. I fell in love. Honey, my bunny, my sweet turtledove". Each page contains a new stanza and an illustration of grandma bunny and the new grandchild sharing loving and memorable moments together.

The story seems to culminate one the stanza: "I tickle your toes and you hold my hand. You are the reason I am called grand".

Petra Brown's whimsical illustrations bolster the poem and complete the emotional phrasing of the book. Her bunnies are expertly personified such that a reader can easily identify with his or her own experience as a grandchild or grandmother. The artworks is soothing and colorful. The illustrations work together, creating a feeling of warmth on the pages.

The book itself is published as a keepsake gift for a new grandchild. There is an inscription page at the front of the book. The end papers of the book consist of a page that contains the phrase: "A Special Letter to My Grandchild" at the top with space for a hand-written letter. The opposite end paper has space for a photograph of grandma and grandchild.

The opportunity for personalizing the book will be sure to stir loving memories of the grandmother-grandchild relationship. This is a beautiful book that is sure to become a treasured possession for many families.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Great Time at Warwick's Bookstore in La Jolla, California



I had the best time at Warwick's bookstore in La Jolla, California today. I was book signing with my buddy and co-author of "Paper Son: Lee's Journey to America," Virginia Shin-Mui Loh (aka Virginia Loh Hagan.) What an amazing group of supportive and creative people showed up to let us share our newest work. Patty Fares from Urban Safaris, my buddy Linda Kent from World Book, the amazing nonfiction writer Kathleen Krull, and a host of other talented folks including Joy Chu and Cindy Clevenger. It was such a treat for me. Thank you, thank you, thank you to all involved!

Hugs to all!

Friday, July 26, 2013






I'll be at Warwick's bookstore for a book signing on Sunday, July 28 at noon with the co-author of "Paper Son: Lee's Journey to America," Virginia Shin-Mui Loh (aka Virginia Loh Hagan).

"Grandma Loves You!" is fresh off the press! I just got my first copy yesterday and I'll have it at Warwick's. It's a great gift book for every grandmother. The book has special pages dedicated to pasting a photo of grandma and baby and a spot for grandma to write a letter to her grand baby.

We'll have both "Paper Son" and "Grandma Loves You!" at Warwick's.

Hope to see you at Warwick's!
7812 Girard Avenue
La Jolla, CA 92037
858-454-0347

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Next Big Thing



What is the title of your work-in-progress?
My fresh-off-the-press book is Paper Son: Lee’s Journey to America (published May 1, 2013 by Sleeping Bear Press). It is co-written with another San Diegan, Virginia Shin-Mui Loh

I’m working on other manuscripts, but I can’t share much about them yet. Some are still in the beginning stages and I may never figure out how to finish them. On the other hand, I have finished manuscripts that I need to find a  publisher that’s just right for them. 

Where did the idea come from? 
The first time I ever heard of “paper sons” or “paper daughters” was when I read a book about Angel Island that was written by a friend of mine, Larry Dane Brimner. I was immediately fascinated by this important and forgotten piece of Californian and American history. But, it took a couple of years before I started writing and many years to complete.  

What genre does your book come under? 
It’s an historical fiction picture book. It’s beautifully illustrated by Wilson Ong

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie?
The main character would be a talented Chinese American boy and he’d need to have heart and be brave, just like Lee. 

One sentence synopsis for your book? 
Lee leaves his family and China in search of a better life in America posing as a “paper son” in this Angel Island immigration story.  

Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency? 
All six of my children’s books are published by Sleeping Bear Press, a fabulous publishing company. 

How long did it take to write the first draft of your manuscript? It was so long ago that I don’t remember! The most important writing event is to just get started with some words on paper and little by little the story gets completed. And, of course, I loved having Virginia co-write the manuscript with me. 

What other books would you compare to within your genre?
Milly Lee, a friend of mine who was on the California Young Reader Medal Committee with me for four years, wrote a book about Angel Island. Her book, Landed, is an historical fiction, picture book, but it’s not about a paper son. I like the idea that people who are interested in immigration stories might read and compare my story with Milly’s. Teachers are familiar with Ellis Island immigration stories, but Angel Island is just as important and those stories aren’t as familiar. 

Who or what inspired you to write this book?  
Larry Dane Brimner’s book about Angel Island was where I first read about paper sons. When Barbara McNally, my editor at Sleeping Bear Press, mentioned she was interested in hearing about some interesting stories set in California, I immediately thought of Angel Island and paper sons. 

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? 
I guess I’d like to take this opportunity to mention that I have another picture book coming out in July, 2013. It’s a completely different type of book. It’s all sugar, gush, rhyme, and love and called Grandma Loves You! It's illustrated by Petra Brown. The books are as different as night and day, but I love both of them and hope readers will too! 




I'm tagging Carolyn Marsden (www.carolynmarsden.com

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Little America Is Featured at Cracker Barrel!



Little America can now be found at Cracker Barrel restaurants throughout the United States. But, there isn't a single Cracker Barrel in California. Bob and I hit the road and drove to Yuma to get some comfort food and take a photo of Little America by Cracker Barrel's "Made in America" theme display.

I wonder what the woman looking over my shoulder is thinking?

If you visit a Cracker Barrel, please take a photo of you and Little America and email it to me!

S is for S'mores: A Camping Alphabet will be featured this summer at Cracker Barrel. Yes. There will be another trip to Yuma in my future.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Paper Son: Lee's Journey to America is fresh off the press! 



It's been my pleasure to visit with Mt Woodson Elementary School and Rosa Parks Elementary School this week. We had such a lovely time together talking about reading and writing, and students had fabulous questions for me. 

Here are the reviews, so far:



Booklist Reviews "Paper Son: Lee's Journey to America"

Star Review! Twelve year-old Lee does not want to leave China. Yet the responsibility for supporting his grandparents weighs heavily on his heart. He is to be a “paper son,” and he studies a coaching book that details the life he supposedly lives with his American father so he can dupe immigration officials in California. After tense goodbyes, Lee is off across the Pacific, only to be detained on Angel Island (“the Ellis Island of the West”) with other Asian immigrants. They are treated like prisoners and fear deportation, but Lee knows that he must prove that he belongs with the family listed on his documents and is more than just their son on paper. In this poignant tale of home and heartbreak, which recalls Allen Say’s Grandfather’s Journey (1993), readers learn about the emotional toll that is part of so many immigration experiences. Ong’s lightinfused paintings match the narrative’s subdued tone, and Lee’s dignity is evident in his upright posture as he bravely faces a new life in a foreign place. It’s not a story often told for this age, and readers will be drawn to Lee’s quiet determination as he grapples with the complexity of knowing that “I didn’t want to come, but now I need to stay.”

School Library Journal Reviews "Paper Son: Lee's Journey to America"

Lee, 12, lives with his grandparents. His parents have died, but it was their wish that he go to America for better opportunities. In 1926, conditions are difficult in China, and the boy’s loving grandparents sadly agree that leaving would be the best thing for him. Immigration laws restrict Chinese people from entering the United States, so Lee’s family purchased a “paper son” slot for him. A Chinese man already living in America will say that Lee is his son to get him into the country. As Wang Lee becomes Fu Lee, he must learn minute details about his new family in order to pass the interrogations at the Angel Island Immigration Station. While often called the “Ellis Island” of the west, Angel Island was often about stopping immigrants rather than welcoming them. People could spend weeks, months, or even years there, waiting to pass the tests or appealing deportation rulings. Since being a “paper son” was illegal, secrecy was paramount. The story concentrates on Lee’s feelings about traveling alone to America, staying on Angel Island, and navigating the questioning. Failure would mean deportation, giving up the chance to help his grandparents, and losing the money his family paid. Large-scale illustrations, full-page and two-page bleeds, realistically portray the time and place and will help young readers with context. The authors provide a helpful summary of Angel Island history. Use with Milly Lee’s Landed (Farrar, 2006) and Laurence Yep’s Dragon Child (HarperCollins, 2008) to give young readers a fascinating glimpse into this elusive chapter of American history.

Examiner.com Reviews "Paper Son: Lee's Journey to America"

“Paper Son: Lee’s Journey to America” by Helen Foster James and Virginia Shin-Mui Loh and illustrated by Wilson Ong is a compelling story about a 12-year-old boy from a rural Chinese village who must travel to America to provide for his family in China.
When Lee’s parents are killed by bandits, he learns that they spent all their money and borrowed even more to buy him a “paper son slot” for Lee to go to America and live with a family, work and send money home. His grandparents work to pay off the remainder of the debt — a huge amount by Chinese standards in 1926.
The narration makes it clear that Lee and his grandparents live on the edge of poverty. “Lee knew that they needed farm equipment and a new roof. He remembered nights he’d gone hungry dreaming of steamed fish with brown sauce and long noodles with chicken and bok choy.”
And although Lee really doesn’t want to leave the only family he has left, he listens as his grandmother reminds him that, “In Gum Saan, mountains are topped with gold and streets are paved with silver. Our mountains are topped with wars and our streets are paved with bandits.”
Lee must study his “coaching book,” a book filled with information about his new family. It includes the most minute details about their life; information he must memorize so that the immigration officials will believe that he is related to his new “paper” family.
Lee studies hard and every night his grandfather quizzes him on the details. “How many windows are in the Fu house?” When Lee makes a mistake, his grandfather reminds him how important this is. If he fails to convince the authorities that he is the Fu’s son, they will lose the money and he will be deported.
The story follows Lee as he crosses the ocean and ends up in San Francisco. The passengers on the ship take a boat to Angel Island Immigration Station. There they will be given a physical exam and tested to make sure they are related to an American.
This book teaches readers about the promise of a new country and the lengths that people — young and old — were willing take to get there. The last page is about the history of Angel Island and the immigrants who entered America from the Pacific Ocean.
This picture book is for older readers. The themes (immigration, war, poverty, role playing) are perfect for third and fourth graders studying communities and the history of America.
“Paper Son” would be a great title to use when studying immigration. Teachers should use this book and one of the many books available about European immigration to compare and contrast how the immigration process worked — a study which fits in perfectly with Common Core State Standards.

Kirkus Reviews "Paper Son"

The journey from China to the United States and the experience on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay are fraught with anxiety and peril for 12-year-old Wang Lee.
In order to gain admittance, he takes the “paper son” name Fu Lee, taking the place of someone whose records had burnt in the 1906 earthquake and fire. If he does not pass the examination on Angel Island (the Ellis Island of the West), he will be returned to China. Like many hopeful emigrants, he has carefully memorized each small detail in a “coaching book”: the number of windows in “his” house, its location vis-à-vis neighbors and other minutiae of another family’s home in China. The entire experience is expensive and traumatic, and waiting in the barracks on Angel Island is tiresome, strange and frightening, all at once. To lose family, name and everything else that one knows takes a brave person, desperate for the opportunity that Gum Saam can provide. Fu Lee meets these demands in a book that clearly shows the boy and his fears and hopes. Ong’s paintings of place and persons make the journey, setting and experience come alive. Backmatter on Angel Island provides historical context.
An effective and empathetic depiction of the Angel Island experience. (Picture book. 8-12)

Here are the details: 
Author: Helen Foster James and Virginia Shin-Mui Loh
Illustrator: Wilson Ong
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press (May 1, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1585368334
ISBN-13: 978-1585368334



Tuesday, May 7, 2013

What Was the March on Washington? by Kathleen Krull

Kathleen Krull did it again!

She is the storyteller of facts rather than the lecturer of facts . . . and I mean that in the best possible way. In this book, young and old will learn about the March on Washington while being entertained with Krull's snappy and informative writing.

Here are the details:


  • Age Range: 8 and up 
  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap (February 7, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0448462877
  • ISBN-13: 978-0448462875


Well done!


Sunday, February 19, 2012

S'mores Cheer!

I was visiting the Vista School District library techs last week thanks to a kind invitation for their district librarian, Linda Goodballet. Thank you Linda!

LeDawn Penrod from Mission Meadows Elementary in Oceanside, shared her S.M.O.R.E.S cheer with me. Thank you LeDawn! Give LeDawn's S'mores Cheers a try!

S-M-O-R-E-S

S'mores is the treat
I love the best!

Take a marshmallow
and a chocolate bar
Squish between a
graham cracker —

there you are!

Happy S'mores making and eating!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Paper Son and Angel Island


I'm pleased to announce the historical fiction, picture book manuscript I co-wrote with Virginia Loh about a paper son will be published by Sleeping Bear Press! It will be one of the titles in their series, Tales of Young Americans.

Paper sons emigrated from China to America through Angel Island. To learn more about paper sons and the Angel Island Immigration experience, visit the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation website at: http://www.aiisf.org/

Virginia Shin-Mui Loh is also the author of The Jade Dragon (Candlewick, 2006).

The book will be published in 2014 or 2015. More information to come!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Book of the Year Award


Little California and Little America received Creative Child Awards Program Book of the Year (combined award in the board books category).

Their website is www.creativechild.com.

The books are listed on page 50 of their online catalog.

Had to share!

Happy Holiday Season!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Midwest Book Review


The Easy Reader Shelf

Little America
Helen Foster James, author
Jeannie Brett, Michael Glenn Monroe, and Helle Urban, illustrators
Sleeping Bear Press
Suite 200
315 East Eisenhower Parkway
Ann Arbor, MI 48108
9781585361793 $9.95 www.sleepingbearpress.com

Little America is a board book for beginning readers, written in the format of ten rhyming riddles about American treasures. For example, riddle five is "Baked in the oven, round and sweet, try a slice for a tasty treat," and the answer is "Apple Pie," naturally. Bright, colorful illustrations add the perfect touch to this delightful addition to the "Little" board book series for the very young.

Showering a Baby with Books



Recently it was my pleasure to attend a baby shower for a longtime friend who had just become a first-time grandma. She was delighted to have a new little one in her life and her friends rallied around her in celebration.


I had never heard of a baby shower for grandmas, but I’m always happy to celebrate with a friend. I googled around and found that grandma showers are a new and very up-and-coming tradition. They’re trendy. They’re unique and, if you ask me, they’re here to stay.


Don’t get me wrong, showers are usually “not my thing,” but this was different in many ways. One of the best parts of the shower was that every one of the dozen attendees was to bring a baby book for little Elliot so grandma would always have baby books handy for his visits. Now, that’s an idea I can back! This simple idea started Elliot’s personal library of books.


The attendees investigated what book (or books) we should gift grandma and Elliot. Without consulting each other, there was not a single duplication. The assorted books ranged from long-time favorites to fresh-off-the-press releases. From board books to plastic books for the tub and almost every type of book in between!


If you are looking for help finding great shower books, visit the National Parenting Publications Awards website (www.nappaawards.parenthood.com) for a list of this year’s winners and previous winners.


If you want more help, visit your local children’s bookstore and ask them for assistance. They are sure to be able to put the right book in your hands. If you aren’t lucky enough to have a children’s bookstore in your neighborhood, try your local independent brick-and-mortar store. They’ll give you great advice. A visit to your local public library might put you in touch with a librarian with a host of favorite book ideas, and don’t forget to recall all the books you or your child loved as a little one.


I hope the next time you have a shower to attend (or give!), you’ll consider a shower of books. And, if you have a new grandmother in your life, I hope you’ll give her a book shower.


I'm the author of two board books that would make excellent shower gifts: Little California and Little America (Sleeping Bear Press, 2011). To learn more about Helen, visit her website at www.helenfosterjames.com.



Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Juliette Gordon Lowe's 100th annivesary


"Come right over! I've got something for the girls of Savannah, and all America, and all the world, and we're going to start it tonight!"

—Juliette Gordon Low phoning her cousin Nina Anderson Pape in 1912

With those words, the Girl Scouts were started and 2012 marks its 100th anniversary. What better way to celebrate the Girl Scouts than to celebrate with one of their creations: S'mores!

My book has a double-page spread celebrating Juliette Low and another environmentalist, John Muir. Check it out.

Is your Girl Scout group celebrating this 100th anniversary? If so, consider inviting me to the celebration. We can make some s'mores together!