A disco ball spins rhinestones around a room at the back of the library. Meanwhile, over a rainbow array of art supplies, a couple dozen children are spinning with ideas.
Dillon Helbig is co-leading this writing workshop in Boise, Idaho, handing out copies of his six-step plan on how to write a book. As a local celebrity author, he would know.
The second grader went viral earlier this year for sneaking his handwritten book, “The Adventures of Dillon Helbig’s Crismis” by Dillon “His Self,” onto a shelf here at the Ada Community Library, Lake Hazel Branch. Librarians – impressed – slapped a barcode on the spine. Readers raced to check it out, resulting in a wait time of more than five years.
“As you can see, I’m a kid,” he tells the Monitor.
Since his escapade, Dillon has inspired peers to put pencil to paper. Now more kids are crafting original storybooks to share – not just here, but also at school. Librarians are seeking ways to preserve the work of their smallest scribes and encourage the confidence to create.
“Each one of you is a special and creative kid,” Alex Hartman, the branch manager, tells the room. “You are capable of making incredible things, and people are interested in what you can do.”
They don’t even need to be sneaky. Ask Evey Jensen, who’s handed out copies of her original book to her school and the Boise branch. Dillon lit the spark.
“Kinda ever since I started writing them, I’ve wanted to be famous,” she says. “And I’ve wanted people to be happy.”
Dillon Helbig (right) works next to Mia Gozart at a kids writing workshop at the Ada Community Library, Lake Hazel Branch, in Boise, Idaho, April 23, 2022.
An inspiration to people of all ages
Dillon’s time-traveling epic of more than 80 pages involves an exploding Christmas tree star and Dillon himself being eaten by a turkey. Hiding his book with his hands, real-life Dillon slipped it onto a library shelf in late 2021. After it was discovered, the library gave him an award for best young novelist of the year, reported the Idaho Press.
The news exploded like his star. His proud parents say fans of all ages – across the country and world – have thanked him for inspiring them to quit procrastinating on creative projects. The book circulated briefly through the library, but the family is holding onto the only copy for now. A slew of publishers, production companies, and reporters have reached out, says mom Susan Helbig; the family is weighing which next steps will be “in Dillon’s best interest.”
Adult author Cristianne Lane, the other workshop co-leader who pitched the event, floats among tables strewn with paper and markers. She and Dillon have both “self-published” – hers through Amazon.
“I loved that he published his own, because I’m a big believer in having kids publish their stories to inspire them to be writers,” says the former second grade teacher.
Today’s session is about ideas, she announces, though kids like kindergartner Cruzen Hartman are already off to the races. The son of the librarian has one book already on display; he’s crafting his latest tale in a polka-dot journal. It’s about cars that are born tiny and then grow big enough to hold humans, titled “The Baby Cars.”
Cruzen Hartman peeks out behind his latest tale, “The Baby Cars,” following a kids writing workshop in Boise, Idaho, April 23, 2022. Like other Idaho kids, he was inspired by second grader Dillon Helbig, who made news in recent months for sneaking his handwritten book onto a library shelf.
Pencil gripped, fifth grader Rachel McHugh is writing “A Desert With Waves.” A “silly cactus” wanders the desert looking for water and stumbles upon a tornado that is made of water.
“And then they were friends. Until one day … ,” her voice drips with drama.
The Monitor is avoiding spoilers.
Courage and confidence
Evey grew up in this library. Literally, says her mom: She took her first steps here.
At home on Sunday, a plump orange cat named Louise lounges on the second grader’s leg.
“Aw, you’re such a good cat,” Evey coos. “Do you think Louise knows that she’s getting interviewed right now?”
Louise features in “My Purrrrrson Is Sad,” a book written by Evey during a COVID-19 quarantine this January. Her mom, Theresa Jensen, helped brainstorm and scored a co-illustrator credit. Over six pages, Louise tries to cheer Evey up – just like real life. The first failed attempt by Louise involves her bringing Evey a dead bird (art imitating life again, apparently).
The author finished a second book in the Evey-and-Louise series this weekend. Before that, Evey had given a copy of “My Purrrrrson Is Sad” to Cindy Hall, the elementary librarian at her Christine Donnell School of the Arts.
Evey Jensen hugs her cat, Louise, at home in Boise, Idaho, April 24, 2022. Louise features in a couple books that Evey has written.
“All these students come to us with this desire to share what’s within them, and some of them are able to kind of cross over that scary vulnerability of sharing it,” says the librarian, noting the book is a popular checkout. “She was brave enough to do it.”
Separately, fellow second grader Stella Floto – aspiring veterinarian or zoo keeper or author – has also offered Ms. Hall a homemade book that compares and contrasts animals.
The Lake Hazel Branch, meanwhile, has dedicated shelf space for kid-written books. The plan is for librarians to read all submissions by the end of the year, then choose at least one for reproduction and inclusion in the catalog, along with an award. Workshops will continue, too.
How does it feel to inspire other kids to write?
Dillon pauses, strokes his chin in thought.