Meet Helen Lester and Lynn Munsinger

Exclusive Interviews with the Author and Illustrator of Tacky the Penguin

“I hope my readers come away with the feeling [that] different is okay. Just be a nice bird to have around.”

“I love to try to capture characters and their expressions. I have been doing that since I was a child.…Ever since then, I’ve been drawing funny little animals with outfits on, and that’s worked out well for me!”

To help your students take a deeper dive with Tacky the Penguin, we sat down with illustrator Lynn Munsinger and author Helen Lester for their behind-the-scenes take on creating this delightful and beloved picture book.

First, watch an exclusive video interview with Lynn Munsinger to learn about her personal journey as an illustrator, her process for drawing Tacky the Penguin, and her advice for aspiring illustrators.


Then read the interview below with Helen Lester to discover what inspired her to create Tacky, what she loves most about the character, how her experience as an educator helped shape her writing, and more.

What was your journey to becoming a writer?

HELEN LESTER: My journey to becoming a writer started with a left turn and I wrote backwards. Way back in the olden days, children did little writing. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I stumbled into writing, thinking I was an illustrator. Once turned around, I found I could write. I had drawn some simple silly drawings to sell at my children’s school’s Christmas fair, and another mom swooped by, saw my efforts, and said, “Those are cute. You should write children’s books.” That’s all it took, and after seven attempts, my first book, Cora Copycat, was published. In almost all of my later books, I was [paired] with the wonderful illustrator Lynn Munsinger, who draws what I would if I could. But this new career was a surprise. I was the first author I had ever met!

How has your experience as an educator informed your writing approach?

HL: I spent ten years in second grade (as a teacher) and my students definitely were my inspiration—either as characters I knew, things they said (“Me first!”), or situations they encountered. Each book was born with lists of characters, sayings, or situations already in my mind.

Can you share the inspiration for Tacky the Penguin, and what you love most about this character?

HL: Every classroom has a Tacky. Or two. Or some years, more! One of my favorite “Tackys” had all the characteristics: Enthusiasm, good nature, blurting whatever was on his mind, a bit clueless. “Appropriate” was not in his vocabulary, but he was endearingly goofy. He grew up to be a beloved school principal.

You have mentioned how you love to see teachers using your books in their classrooms. What is your favorite?

HL: I love the playfulness of teachers, and when they turn their children loose with writing, it’s magic. Story starters like “The day I brought Tacky home was…” have dazzling results. I love when teachers share their students’ projects and class bulletin boards with me.

What do you hope readers take away from reading Tacky’s story?

HL: I hope my readers come away with the feeling [that] different is okay. Just be a nice bird to have around.

Do you know another teacher or reader who would enjoy these interviews with Helen Lester and Lynn Munsinger? Please share with them on Facebook and Instagram using the hashtag #ScholasticBookClubs.

About Helen Lester and Lynn Munsinger

Helen Lester and Lynn Munsinger have collaborated on many funny and popular books for children, including the stories starring Tacky the Penguin and Wodney Wat, as well as the new Laugh-Along series. Helen Lester is a full-time writer who makes her home in New York. Lynn Munsinger has lived in Vermont and Connecticut, devoting her time to freelance illustration.

Behind the Scenes

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