Alberta Helmes Dunn credits her son with the push that spurred her into action.
“He said, ‘You’ve been talking about writing books ever since I’ve been alive, and you haven’t done one yet,’” Dunn recalled. “And I knew he was right. How can I expect my kids to follow their dreams if I’m not following mine?”
Since that conversation, the Luling woman has penned not just one, but three children’s books, the latest “Grandma’s Hands,” which was released in October. It’s something of a departure to the theme of her first two books, which brought well-known fairy tale characters together with her own twists on the characters: Little Red Meets Goldilocks and Little Red Meets the Three Pigs, released in 2017 and 2015, respectively.
Grandma’s Hands, conversely, is about a young boy who grows up with a grandmother very supportive of him, inspiring him to be the best grandfather he can be later in life. Her inspiration came from her own life, as Helms is now a grandmother herself.
“Little Red was a girl, and so I wanted a little boy character here because I have two grandsons,” Dunn said. “The characters are bi-racial, because that’s how my family is. I wanted this book to have the message that no matter what color, shape or size you are, as long as you treat people with respect and are treated with respect, that’s what matters.”
It would be difficult to look at Helms as anything but an inspiration. Growing up in a low-income environment, she often turned to writing as an outlet. Her father bought her a typewriter when she was 9, and she immediately began writing stories for her friends all over her neighborhood.
She long yearned to write a book and ultimately decided to make it a reality. Surrounded by children daily as she worked at the library of Norco Elementary School, she thought it might be nice to make it a fairy tale.
“I wanted to feature characters who looked like me, African American characters in my fairy tales because I didn’t have that growing up,” Dunn said. “That was a big thing that prompted me to write these books. And I grew up with Little Red Riding Hood as one of my favorites.”
Thus, a story merging two classic fairy tales into a modern story with African-American characters began to develop in her mind. The tale would be set in the woods of Luling, and those who meet Little Red’s acquaintance are not limited to those notes in the titles of her books: after all, when it comes to the woods, a very Big Bad Wolf is known to lurk.
She made the characters relatable – they rap, they sing, and they use local slang. Actually, as Dunn notes, the local flavor of the dialogue is another unique combination in itself, terms and phrases popular in Louisiana and Kentucky, where Dunn originally hails from.
After a year of writing and perfecting her tale, she moved forward with the project. She could not afford an illustrator at the time, so she took on the task herself.
“They weren’t the best, but I wanted to make this happen, and they told the story,” she said.
That first book was published originally by independent publisher AuthorHouse. Today, all three books are available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.
Like the fairy tales, the characters in Grandma’s Hands are set in Luling as well.
Dunn hopes her story can inspire others to pursue their passions.
“My thing with children is, if they can dream it, they can achieve it,” Dunn said. “People thought I was kind of goofy, writing all the time, but my parents gave me that confidence to carry with me through life. You have to work hard, believe in yourself and go do it. And you can.”