Helena Ku
Award Winning Children’s Author
Bestselling Author
Travels from: Los Angeles/California

“Helena Ku Rhee crafts a layered, loving picture book tribute to family and the sacrifices that parents make for their children’s future…Pascal Campion’s blurry lines and the watercolor-like shadows that follow the characters bring to mind the parallel world of kings and queens.” — Shelf Awareness, starred review

Helena Ku Rhee is an award-winning author of books for kids and the young at heart. Her latest book, Sora’s Seashells, won a 2024 Ezra Jack Keats Award Honor for Writing. Her bestselling book The Paper Kingdom was included on many year-end Best Books lists, including NPR, BookPage, Kirkus, Parents Magazine and the Los Angeles Public Library, among others. It was also featured on Good Morning America, Entertainment Weekly, and ABC–TV. Helena is also the author of Rosa’s Song, The Turtle Ship, and Shoes Off, Please (forthcoming 2025).

Helena is also an essayist and her essays have appeared in The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and Salon.

Helena is currently based in Los Angeles (her hometown), but she has also lived in various parts of the U.S., Asia and Europe. She loves to travel far and wide across this beautiful planet, counting among her favorite journeys a camping trip in the Sahara, a swim with elephants in Thailand and a horseback-riding tour of Easter Island. She draws story ideas from her travels as well as her childhood.

Listen to Helena’s moving 6-minute interview on NPR.

Helena Ku's Featured Titles

Sora’s Seashells

Candlewick |

A lyrical narration and luminous illustrations tell an uplifting intergenerational story of kindness and confidence, loss and remembrance, with resonance for any child who feels other-than.

Sora means ‘seashell’ in Korean,” her mother said. “Halmoni always said finding a perfect shell is like receiving a wonderful gift. That’s why she suggested we name you Sora.”

Every summer, when Sora’s Halmoni, or grandmother, visits from South Korea, the two of them take the bus to the beach to search for seashells. While Sora likes to take all of them back with her, Halmoni always leaves the prettiest shell for someone else to find and treasure. As summer turns to fall, Halmoni returns home and Sora starts kindergarten, where some of the kids tease her about her “weird” name. One day, Sora’s parents receive a sad call about her grandmother, and Sora feels more lost than ever about who she is and how she fits in. But when her parents reveal the origin of her name, Sora channels a newfound pride and, inspired by Halmoni, combats her peers’ hurtful comments by sharing her shells with everyone in her class. This story, told by Helena Ku Rhee and illustrated by Stella Lim, based on art by Ji-Hyuk Kim, speaks to the prevailing power of kindness and will resonate with anyone who’s been made to feel different.

Rosa’s Song

Random House Studio |

In this diverse picture book, a young immigrant from South Korea finds community and friendship in an apartment house filled with other newly arrived kids.

When Jae looks out the window of his new home, he wishes he could still see his old village, his old house, and his old friends. But his new apartment feels empty and nothing outside is familiar. Jae just arrived from South Korea and doesn’t even speak the new language.

Yet, making friends is the same wherever you go and he soon meets a girl with a colorful bird perched on her shoulder. Rosa knows just how Jae feels and the two become fast friends. Not only does Rosa show Jae his new neighborhood but she shows him how his imagination can bring back memories of his old home.  Then Rosa leaves unexpectedly one night but leaves her parrot for Jae. He thinks about the song that Rosa would sing: “When I fly away, my heart stays here.” And when Jae meets two other newly arrived kids, he teaches them Rosa’s song and becomes their guide to this new world.

From the creators of the highly acclaimed The Paper Kingdom, comes a new book about the importance of community and demonstrates how a simple act of kindness can be passed along to others.

The Paper Kingdom

Random House Books for Young Readers |

An office at night is reimagined as a fantastical kingdom of paper complete with friendly dragons in this own voices picture book.

When the babysitter is unable to come, Daniel is woken out of bed and joins his parents as they head downtown for their jobs as nighttime office cleaners. But the story is about more than brooms, mops, and vacuums. Mama and Papa turn the deserted office building into a magnificent kingdom filled with paper. Then they weave a fantasy of dragons and kings to further engage their reluctant companion–and even encourage him to one day be the king of a paper kingdom.

The Paper Kingdom expresses the joy and spirit of a loving family who turn a routine and ordinary experience into something much grander. Magical art by Pascal Campion shows both the real world and the fantasy through the eyes of the young narrator.

The Turtle Ship

Shen’s Books |

A young Korean boy named Sun-sin designs one of the greatest battleships in history and fulfills his dream of sailing the world.

Long ago in Korea, a young boy named Sun-sin spent his days playing with his pet turtle Gobugi and dreaming of sailing around the world. As a poor villager, though, his dream to travel seemed impossible. Then one day, the king’s court announced a contest to find the best design for a new battleship to defend the land from invaders. The winner would sail the ocean with the royal navy.

Determined to win, Sun-sin attempts to build an indestructible battleship with a few found items. Each attempt fails miserably against the powerful sea, and with it Sun-sin’s dream also sinks to the bottom. Turning to Gobugi for comfort, Sun-sin notices how his pet turtle is small but mighty, slow but steady, and impossible to sink. Suddenly, Sun-sin has a great idea.

Loosely based on the true story of Admiral Yi Sun-sin and his Turtle Ship, this delightful tale by debut author Helena Ku Rhee and debut illustrator Colleen Kong-Savage introduce young readers to a fascinating episode in Korean history and naval engineering.


From Dreamer to Author

In an engaging and interactive discussion, Helena will share her background and how she became an author. While taking the audience through an entertaining journey through Helena’s childhood through a series of images, she will also weave in her most personal book, The Paper Kingdom. She will read from the book while giving insight into the book-making process, including working with the illustrator. She will also discuss how the book was inspired by her childhood, when her parents worked as night janitors in Los Angeles. On nights her parents couldn’t find anyone to watch her, Helena accompanied her parents to work, where they turned drudgery into magic. Helena will discuss how the power of imagination can turn the mundane into something amazing.


Writing Workshop

Helena enjoys fostering creativity, and combines energy with moments of quiet contemplation in an interactive session for aspiring authors. By incorporating examples from her award-winning book Sora’s Seashells as well as providing writing prompts, Helena will guide a group of writers through the writing process – from generating ideas, developing characters, to forming a writing routine. Get ready to write and to be inspired!


Book Reading + Q&A

Select one (or two) of Helena’s books, and she will read from the book while giving an in-depth behind-the-scenes look at how the story came to life, and how she (and the illustrator(s)) made storytelling decisions. A lively Q&A will follow, so get ready to ask your pressing questions about books, writing & publishing!


Writing & Publishing Children's Books

If you’re a grownup (parent, teacher, librarian, etc.) who would like to write a children’s story and get it published by a traditional publishing house, this session is for you. Helena will guide you through selecting an idea to develop into a story, and will give an overview of the traditional publishing process for children’s books. You’ll walk away with a good sense of what it takes to become a traditionally-published children’s author — this means that she’ll also address something that all authors wrestle with: rejection! Helena’s goal is to inspire her audience, so she will share her personal journey of dealing with the ups and downs of writing and publishing.



Helena has given keynote speeches at various functions for a wide range of organizations, including literacy & teaching conferences as well as attorney & professional functions. As an author, essayist and former attorney, Helena is adept at incorporating pressing current issues into her talk, and can work with event organizers to address specific themes or concerns in her presentation.

Curriculum Guide for The Paper Kingdom

Helena’s Events and Visits

Helena’s Blog

Helena’s Articles and Interviews

Helena’s Articles and Interviews

Honors, Awards & Recognition

Ezra Jack Keats Award Honor (Writing) for Sora’s Seashells

Praise for The Paper Kingdom:

A Best Book of the Year by:
A #1 Indie Bestseller
An Indie Next Pick by the American Booksellers Association
Featured on NPR, ABC-TV, Entertainment Weekly, & Good Morning America
Optioned by a major motion picture studio (not publicly announced)

Media Kit

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where you can download author photos and cover images.

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