Short Bio for Kids

Helena Ku Rhee is a writer who loves animals and who also loves to travel. So it’s no surprise that her debut picture book features a turtle in a faraway land. Helena won her first fiction contest in the third grade and has been writing ever since. For any young aspiring writers out there, Helena will provide writing tips in the “Hey Kids” and “Blog” portions of this website in the near future. Thanks for visiting!

Longer Bio for Anyone

Helena Ku Rhee grew up in Los Angeles, and moved around the country and around the world in her late teens and twenties. In her thirties, she landed back in the City of Angels and loves it more than she ever thought she would. She works at a movie studio by day, and works as a writer by night/weekend/odd hours when insomnia hits or an idea rattles her out of sleep. As Lawrence Kasdan once said, “Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life.”

Helena’s debut picture book “The Turtle Ship” will be published on June 5, 2018 by Lee & Low, the largest publisher of multicultural/diverse books in the United States. Based in New York City, Lee & Low has a wonderful and important mission, to publish diverse stories that all children can enjoy.

Her second picture book “The Paper Kingdom” will be published in 2019/2020 by the one and only Penguin Random House.

Helena has lived abroad in both Asia and Europe, and likes to draw from her travel experiences for story ideas. As a college student at Yale, she majored in English (no surprise), and then went on to U.C. Berkeley for law school (again, no surprise, since so many English majors end up in law school). Afterwards, she worked at a large firm in San Francisco, and though she enjoyed her time there and met some really brilliant people, she quickly realized that she wanted to work in a creative industry.

And that’s how she landed back in her hometown, to work in the movie industry and to be closer to family. Working for a storytelling organization has been the perfect alignment of her creative interests with her professional training. During her first few years back in L.A., Helena attended U.S.C. as a part-time evening student and received her MFA degree in creative writing through a joint program between U.S.C. and the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Helena’s passions include reading, writing and travel, and she’d love to share information about all three of those categories on this website. Thanks for visiting!

FAQs for Kids

A writer! I’ve always loved books and stories. I have a gazillion ideas, but the hard part is writing those ideas in a way that will make people want to read.  Writing is hard work.  So unless you have a super magic brain, if you want to be a writer, be prepared to work hard!

It depends.  I spend a lot of time in my office building, and when I do go outside and walk across the giant studio, my mind wanders all over the place.  So I don’t pay close attention to the faces around me.  Once, a familiar-looking guy said hello, and I smiled and nodded back.  After he passed by, it hit me that it was Brad Pitt.  I also once noticed a man sitting by himself at a table, and all these people slowed down to look over.  I was too busy thinking about lunch or book ideas or something like that to pay attention, until someone said, “Did you see Stephen Spielberg over there??”  I’m not terribly star-struck. They’re just people after all.  But if I saw one of my favorite writers walking towards me, I’d probably faint or yell out “I love you!”

I usually write at my dining table or in my upstairs home office. It’s got big windows, so I like looking at the sky every once in a while to watch the birds swoop by. Sometimes, a group of small, green parrots flies by – boy, are they noisy! Their chatter makes me laugh. They like to gossip while they fly.

I would love to get a dog. I grew up with dogs and I think they are one of God’s best gifts to mankind. A dog makes the perfect friend – always ready to hang out, generally cheerful and knows when to listen. Sometimes a dog has bad breath, but doesn’t everyone??

[Update Dec. 2017: We got a puppy! His name is Sherwin. Read more about him here and here.]

I was a tomboy!  I had bruises and scabs all over my knees. I loved to play sports and ride my bike. I always chose to play with my toy firetruck and Legos instead of dolls. And when I was super little (just learning to talk), my mom said I asked so many questions about everything and anything that I drove her nuts. She said it was impossible to watch TV if I was nearby because I interrupted with so many questions. I guess I haven’t changed much. My husband complains I make too many side comments during movies.

FAQs for Everyone

Oh boy, how many hours do you have? Actually, do you have a week?? So many good books, so little time! As a kid, I absolutely loved Roald Dahl’s books. Seems like he had so much naughty fun writing his stories. I also loved The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis and any book about curious, adventurous kids – Ramona Quimby, Encyclopedia Brown and Harriet the Spy come to mind. I absolutely love picture books by Amy Krause Rosenthal, (such as Duck, Rabbit) and by Doreen Cronin – Diary of a Worm and Click Clack Moo are brilliant. Linda Sue Park is so good for middle grade! As for young adult novels, omg I love Matt de la Pena. And John Green. And E. Lockhart and Stephanie Perkins. I recently discovered Leigh Bardugo’s The Language of Thorns…brilliant. In the adult realm, so many, from Stephen King (when I want to be afraid of my own house), Paul Theroux (when I want to travel far and wide with a cranky guide) and Jhumpa Lahiri, Geoff Dyer and Chang Rae Lee (when I want to marvel at gorgeous writing and brilliant thinking). Harlan Coben and Haruki Murakami are both so entertaining. M.G. Lord was a writing professor of mine and is a masterful writer and hilarious speaker. Judith Freeman and Janet Fitch are also amazingly skilled writers. And there are the classics—I will always love Marguerite Duras, Paul Bowles, Arthur Miller and on and on… Did I put you to sleep? Because I could spend a week on this topic. When I’m near an author I admire, I have to remind myself to breathe.

I love everything from super goofy humor (Coming to America, Bridesmaids) to epic dramas  (Lawrence of Arabia, Casablanca) and recent releases like La La Land and Get Out. My favorite Pixar animation is The Incredibles. Don’t you love that moment when Dash finds out he can use his legs to make his mother/raft a speedboat??  It was so thrilling. In the movie Paris Je T’aime, I love the chapter directed by Alexander Payne – it’s at once hilarious and lovely. I love Sideways by Alexander Payne as well. And Mad Max: Fury Road – WOW. And boy, Kathryn Bigelow is amazing. The movies Contact with Jodie Foster and Arrival with Amy Adams fill me with hope and wonder. I think I was the only person in the theater who was bawling after watching The Road with Viggo Mortensen…it’s a stunning movie I never want to watch again because it makes me so sad. I could spend the entire next week listing all the movies I love. Many movies I love are based on books (The Road, Arrival, etc.). And as a kid, I loved the TV series The Twilight Zone. I would watch entire marathon weekends until my mom would yell at me to turn off the TV. Then I would grab a book and go outside.

Our world is full of fabulous destinations. We’re so blessed to be earthlings. I’ll always remember my camping trip through the Sahara Desert, how the night sky was dusted with stars.  I would love to go back to Tanzania — the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro crater are so WOW.  I loved meeting baby elephant Boon in Thailand. I am obsessed with Bora Bora in French Polynesia because of its stunning sealife (been there three times and counting!). My favorite European city is Paris. I lived there for two years, and it will always ignite my imagination. And if I could have a pied-a-terre somewhere in the world, it’d probably be in Provence, the South of France. Likely in Aix, where life seems to have a musical quality to it, a perfect little song.

This isn’t easy at all! Hmmm, I’d say it’s a tie between blue and green. If you go to the lagoon of Bora Bora, you will see blues and greens that will electrify your senses.

If you’d like to read more questions and responses, please check out the Kite Tales blog by the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators,  and feel free to send along questions by visiting the Contact tab and I will respond when I can!