HENRYHERZ.COM → KidLit, Fantasy & Sci-Fi

By Henry, Josh & Harrison Herz

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Interview with NY Times bestselling children’s author Nikki Grimes

New York Times bestselling author Nikki Grimes is the recipient of the 2006 NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. Her distinguished works include ALA Notable book WHAT IS GOODBYE?, Coretta Scott King Award winner BRONX MASQUERADE, and Coretta Scott King Author Honor books JAZMIN’S NOTEBOOK, TALKIN’ ABOUT BESSIE, DARK SONS, THE ROAD TO PARIS, and WORDS WITH WINGS. Creator of the popular MEET DANITRA BROWN, Ms. Grimes lives in Corona, California.


For what age audience do you write?

I write books for all ages, from board books to adult historical fiction.  My books run the genre gammit: poetry, prose, biography, historical fiction, novels and novels-in-verse.

Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book is POEMS IN THE ATTIC, a picture book story-in-verse about a little girl who discovers poems written by her mom when her mother was a girl.  Mom grew up as a military brat, and her poems reflect special memories of the places in which her family was stationed.  The book is written in paired poems, one set from the daughter’s point of view, the other set from the mother’s.  The form of poetry switches back and forth between free verse and tanka.

Henry: Wikipedia helpfully offers: “Tanka is a genre of classical Japanese poetry and one of the major genres of Japanese literature. Tanka consist of five units (often treated as separate lines when romanized or translated) usually with the following pattern: 5-7-5-7-7.” An example by Ishikawa Takuboku:

On the white sand
Of the beach of a small island
In the Eastern Sea
I, my face streaked with tears,
Am playing with a crab

What do you hope readers will get from that book?

Growing up in a military family, with the frequent absence of one parent, plus the constant reassignment from one post to another, one city, or even one country to another, can be challenging for a child. There’s nothing children can do to change that circumstance, of course, but they can control how they mark those times of transition, and those periods of parental absence.  Capturing their thoughts, feelings and experiences in poetry can be a powerful, positive way to navigate the challenges.  Writing is also a way to celebrate the unique and wonderful adventures of living in different places.  In fact, poetry can be a powerful tool for any child facing his or her own challenges, whether they’re from a military family or not.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

The first draft of a novel, because it can be excruciatingly difficult to power through the story, from beginning to end, without stopping, and I need to do that.  Otherwise, I risk losing the thread of the story.  The temptation is always to stop and make corrections, or edits along the way. If you do, you lose both the momentum, and the thread, which is always tenuous, in the beginning.  Think spider’s web.  So, my rule is to write first, edit second!  Rewrites are for revisions, not first drafts!

Henry: Thank goodness I write picture books of 500 words or less.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?

Words matter. I get letters from readers around the corner, and from around the world, who write to tell me that my words have inspired, moved, comforted, or challenged them in some significant way. Sometimes my words have changed the way they think, or motivated them to change the way they behave, or how they treat their classmates or their parents. They tell me that my words have turned them into avid readers where, once, they didn’t like to read at all. At other times, my words have awakened in them a desire to write, themselves.

Words are powerful. That’s the lesson!

Henry: Can I get an Amen!

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?

Dinner with President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush, at the Library of Congress, and breakfast with the First Lady at The White House. I attended both as an author invited to the National Book Festival. I’ve been three times, but this first was most memorable.

Henry: Um, AWESOME!!

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Read, read, read and write, write, write. You cannot be a good writer without first being a good reader. Read broadly and deeply because every genre has something to teach you. And write voraciously because writing is a muscle that needs to be exercised. Otherwise, you won’t grow as a wordsmith or a storyteller. Finally, hone your craft patiently before seeking publication. Don’t shortchange yourself, or your audience, by sending your story out into the world before it is the very best that it can be.

Henry: Ah, but that raises the follow-up question, “How do you know when it’s ready to submit?”

Do you have any favorite quotes?

I don’t have any favorite quotes, but there is a Swahili saying I’m partial to: “Pole, pole, tu ta fika.” It means “slowly, slowly, we will arrive.” It reminds me to be patient with myself, and with my work. Patience, as I like to tell young writers, is the difference between a good book and a great one.

Henry: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time” and “Patience is what you get, when you didn’t get what you wanted”

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?

Not really. I often pray over my work, but I don’t consider that strange. I pray over every important aspect of my life. It’s just natural.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

I wouldn’t want a superpower—too much responsibility. It’s tough enough being a regular human being, trying to live with integrity. A superpower would just throw me out of balance.

Henry: Clearly, you are not cut out to become a villain. The image of Galadriel refusing the One Ring of Power just flashed in my head.

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?

Anne Lamott, Toni Morrison, and Lucille Clifton. I’ve met two of the three, but would relish the opportunity to spend an evening with them all because I admire their strength, their faith, and their full immersion into the world of lyrical language and linguistic invention. They not only move me, but they all excite a sweet literary jealousy. They make me want to be a better writer! That is reason enough.

Henry: Wikipedia helpfully offers:

Anne Lamott is an American novelist and non-fiction writer. She is also a progressive political activist, public speaker, and writing teacher. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, her nonfiction works are largely autobiographical. Marked by their self-deprecating humor and openness, Lamott’s writings cover such subjects as alcoholism, single-motherhood, depression, and Christianity.

Toni Morrison is an American novelist, editor, and professor. Her novels are known for their epic themes, vivid dialogue, and richly detailed characters. Among her best known novels are THE BLUEST EYE, SULA, SONG OF SOLOMON and BELOVED. She won the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award in 1988 for BELOVED and the Nobel Prize in 1993. On May 29, 2012, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Lucille Clifton was an American poet, writer, and educator from Buffalo, New York. From 1979 to 1985 she was Poet Laureate of Maryland. Frequent topics in her poetry include the celebration of her African-American heritage, women’s experience, and the female body. She was also nominated twice for the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

Unicorn because, like the wild horses that inspired them, they are noble creatures.

Henry: With notable exceptions, as in UNICORN THINKS HE’S PRETTY GREAT by Bob Shea. :)

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Usually some form of art. I knit, make beaded jewelry, make hand made cards and journals, paint watercolors, and mixed-media art pieces. I enjoy nothing so much as making art.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

Here lies a woman of integrity.

Henry: “lies” and “integrity” are giving me cognitive dissonance. :)

Where can readers find your work?

My books can be found at independent bookstores, bookstore chains, Barnes & Nobel, and Amazon.com. If a brick and mortar store doesn’t have the title you want, (I’ve published more than 60), just ask them to order it for you. If you’re not sure what titles are available, check my website. There you’ll find titles, reviews, excerpts and, in a few cases, audio clips.

This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.


Interview with picture book author/illustrator Elizabeth Rose Stanton

Elizabeth Rose Stanton began her picture book writing and illustrating adventure after a brief career as an architect and long career as a parent and fine artist. Her debut picture book, HENNY (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books), was released in 2014. Her next book, PEDDLES (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books), about a little pig with some big ideas, is due out in this coming January. Elizabeth is represented by Joanna Volpe of New Leaf Literary & Media in New York, and is a member of SCBWI International, and SCBWI Western Washington, and the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association.


For what age audience do you write?

So far, I write and illustrate picture books for the three-to-eight year old crowd.

Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book is PEDDLES. PEDDLES is a companion book to my first book, HENNY, which is about a little chicken with the (mis)fortune to have been born with arms instead of wings. Peddles, however, has all the usual pig parts, plus some big ideas.

Henry: All the usual pig parts, including bacon?

What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?

PEDDLES is all about the creative spirit and determination. I hope young readers will take away that it’s OK to try and fail, but it’s just as important to support and be supported and, ultimately, to give back. But really, it’s just a story about a pig.

Henry: “All animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others.”

What aspect of writing or illustrating do you find most challenging?

I am an expert procrastinator when it comes to the writing part. I have to force myself into the chair when I’m working on the story, but once the manuscript is finished, I don’t seem to have any problem staying put until the illustrations are done.

Henry: The write-first approach makes perfect sense to me, but I also know some author illustrators who are more comfortable illustrating first. You artistic types!

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer/illustrator?

That when we all do well, we all do well. This is a competitive business, but I’ve learned that being supportive is one of the best things anyone can do to move the whole creative process forward, and that there’s room for everyone.

Henry: Agreed. I have to say that SCBWI and the KidLit author community on Facebook are extremely supportive and collaborative. “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer/illustrator?

Having close to one hundred people turn out for my book launch for HENNY. Blew me away!  Who knew a chicken with arms could be such an attraction?

Henry: Well, one typically only sees chickens with arms near nuclear power plants, hence the attraction.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Keep aspiring. Put it out there no matter how old you are or whether you think you can do it or not. See where it leads. You have nothing to lose, and something extraordinary might happen. It certainly did for me.

Henry: Perseverance and a thick skin.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” –George Eliot

“Cats and monkeys; monkeys and cats; all human life is there.” –Henry James

Henry: “Cats and dogs living together. Real wrath of God type stuff.” – Ghostbusters

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you work?

I usually require some combination tea, cats, and quiet. My cats are kind of strange, so I suppose that counts.

Henry: Including an adorable Scottish Fold named Bea. She deserves her own book.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

I would have speed-reading superpowers, because you know the saying about so many books and so little time. . .

Henry: Read faster, but not write/draw faster?

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?

Beatrix Potter because she and her art prevailed in spite of it all; Dorothy Kunhardt because she could write about about everything from Abraham Lincoln to Junket to patting bunnies; and Ruth Plumly Thompson because she picked up the Oz baton and ran with it. Incidentally, I’d prefer them to show up alive– although having ghosts over for dinner might be kind of fun.

Henry: You gotta’ love someone with the middle name Plumly. Wikipedia helpfully offers:

Beatrix Potter – an English author, illustrator, natural scientist, and conservationist best known for her imaginative children’s books featuring animals such as those in THE TALE OF PETER RABBIT, which celebrated the British landscape and country life. She left almost all her property to the National Trust. She is credited with preserving much of the land that now comprises the Lake District National Park.

Dorothy Kunhardt – wrote nearly 50 books, including one of the bestselling children’s books of all time, PAT THE BUNNY, which has sold over six million copies. She had initially written it for her youngest child Edith, who has followed her mother’s footsteps and is a popular children’s author. Other works include the well-known TWENTY DAYS, an account of Lincoln’s assassination and the twenty days that followed.

Ruth Plumly Thompson – began her writing career in 1914, when she took a job with the Philadelphia Public Ledger; she wrote a weekly children’s column for the newspaper. She had already published her first children’s book, THE PERHAPPSY CHAPS, and her second, THE PRINCESS OF COZYTOWN, was pending publication when William Lee, vice president of Baum’s publisher Reilly & Lee, solicited Thompson to continue the Oz series. Between 1921 and 1939, she wrote one Oz book a year.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

The Gump—an amalgamation of a goat-whiskered moose head, a couple of couches, palm fronds, and a little magic dust– from the Oz books by L. Frank Baum. I want a ride!

Henry: Well, that is as bizarre a choice as they come. I’m more of a traditionalist. Give me a dragon or a griffin.


What do you like to do when you’re not writing or illustrating?

Reading, sketching, thinking and, quite often, nothing.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

“All’s well that ends well.”

Where can readers find your work?

penspaperstudio.com Thank you, Henry!

My pleasure. This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner

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Stunning Building Designs That Integrate Trees

From the mad geniuses at Bored Panda.

We can either work with nature, or work against it. On this spectrum, these architects have decided to find a middle ground: instead of chopping down trees and building their houses, the trees are incorporated as a part of the new structures.

Deforestation has a significant environmental impact. Many studies suggest that is a contributor to global warming; it impacts the water cycle by reducing the amount of water in the soil and air; it contributes to soil loss; and it results in a decline in biodiversity.

Urbanization makes up only a small part of global deforestation, but it is important for its psychological impact. Will we cut down the forests to build our homes, or will be try and incorporate our buildings into the surrounding environment? How can we change our living habits to be more mindful of nature?

These designs showcase tree-human cohabitation. Do you have any pictures of nature an architecture combined? Post them or vote on your favorite below!

#1 Kindergarten Around The Tree

Kindergarten Around The Tree

#2 The Tree Was There First

The Tree Was There First

#3 The Tea House

The Tea House

#4 Casa Vogue

Casa Vogue

#5 Niavaran Residential Complex

Niavaran Residential Complex

#6 Lakeview Residence

Lakeview Residence

#7 Hole


#8 Kook Osteria & Pizzeria

Kook Osteria & Pizzeria

#9 Tree Hugger

Tree Hugger

#10 Cylindrical Glass House Built Around A Tree

Cylindrical Glass House Built Around A Tree

#11 Tree Apartments

Tree Apartments

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Meet the Monsters – Gnomes


Meet the Monsters is a web series providing background on the mythological creatures featured in MONSTER GOOSE NURSERY RHYMES.



According to European mythology, gnomes are small, shy, and cunning humanoids who live underground and can move through earth as easily as humans move through air.

Per Wikipedia:

The chthonic, or earth-dwelling, spirit has precedents in numerous ancient and medieval mythologies, often guarding mines and precious underground treasures, notably in the Germanic dwarves and the Greek Chalybes, Telchines or Dactyls

gnome5The English word is attested from the early 18th century. Gnomes are used in Alexander Pope’s THE RAPE OF THE LOCK. The creatures from this mock-epic are small, celestial creatures which were prudish women in their past lives, and now spend all of eternity looking out for prudish women (in parallel to the guardian angels in Catholic belief). Other uses of the term gnome remain obscure until the early 19th century, when it is taken up by authors of Romanticist collections of fairy tales and becomes mostly synonymous with the older word goblin.

Pope’s stated source, the French satire Comte de Gabalis (1670), used the term gnomide to refer to female gnomes (often “gnomid” in English translations).

In 19th century fiction, the chthonic gnome became a sort of antithesis to the more airy or luminous fairy. Nathaniel Hawthorne in TWICE-TOLD TALES (1837) contrasts the two in “Small enough to be king of the fairies, and ugly enough to be king of the gnomes”. Similarly, gnomes are contrasted to elves, as in William Cullen Bryant’s LITTLE PEOPLE OF THE SNOW (1877), which has “let us have a tale of elves that ride by night, with jingling reins, or gnomes of the mine”.

After World War II (with early references, in ironical use, from the late 1930s) the diminutive figurines introduced as lawn ornaments during the 19th century came to be known as garden gnomes.

Gnomes appear in the game Dungeons & Dragons, and in the OZ series by L. Frank Baum (referred to as “nomes”), THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA series by C.S. Lewis (sometimes referred to as “earthmen”), GNOMES by Wil Huygen, the SHANNARA series by Terry Brooks, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK by Chuck Sambuchino, and MONSTER GOOSE NURSERY RHYMES by Henry Herz.


Gnome with newspaper and tobacco pipe by Heinrich Schlitt


Illustration by E. Stuart Hardy for THE BOOK OF GNOMES Fred. E. Weatherly


Gnome King Kyrië in Hoogeloon, the Netherlands.


Alfred Smedberg’s THE TROLLS AND THE GNOME BOY in the childrens’ stories collection AMONG PIXIES AND TROLLS


To the left a gnome who is cutting stones in the underground.


Night Gnome by Victor Hugo – 1856


The worlds biggest Garden Gnome, called “Solus”, recognized by Guinness World Records Book 2009, placed in Nowa Sól, Poland (5,4 m. high)


Interview with picture book author/illustrator Douglas Florian

Douglas Florian has written and illustrated more than fifty children’s books including beast feast, winner of the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, MAMMALABILA, winner of the Claudia Lewis Poetry Award, and INSECTLOPEDIA, a national bestseller featured on National Public Radio and The Today Show. He has recited his poetry at Carnegie Hall, The White House, and The Museum of Modern Art in New York.


For what age audience do you write?

I think most of my books can be appreciated by all ages of people, but my favorite audience to recite my poetry is second and third graders. They are my biggest laughers.

Tell us about your latest book.

In my newest book, HOW TO DRAW A DRAGON, I show boys and girls how they too can draw dragons while enjoying such things as a bike ride, soaring flight, violin lesson, and marshmallow roast. The end papers give some practical tips, and the ending has a big fold-out surprise. The idea for this book took shape at a school library in Houston, Texas, where a humongous dragon was suspended below the ceiling.

Henry: Dragons AND marshmallows!? Sign me up!

What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?

I’m sure readers will enjoy the wide variety of dragons and start creating their own dragons and dragon adventures.

Henry: I also think drawing dragons should be added to Common Core requirements.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

The most challenging aspect of writing is to keep things fresh and also create something new and different from what I’ve done before. I want each book to be better than the one’s I did before. It’s also a challenge to make sure my facts are accurate if I’m incorporating information in a poem.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?

I think it’s important to believe in your own work and to constantly improve it, but at the same time to be open to suggestions from an editor or designer. My book HOW TO DRAW A DRAGON went through many changes, but in the end it soared as high as it could.

Henry: Yes, book publishing is truly a team effort.

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?

It’s been a great pleasure to recite my poems and show my artwork to students across the country. The response I get from them is inspiring and deeply rewarding.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

My advice would be keep your eyes open, keep your ears open, and keep your mind open. Read a lot. Write a lot. And re-write a lot.

Henry: Yes, the concept of revision is alien to many people, particularly young people.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

Nobody is sure where this originated but someone once said, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” I have found that to be true in most cases. I also like this quote from the scientist Niels Bohr: “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.”

Henry: “Fortune favors the prepared.” And don’t get me started on quantum mechanics…

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?

Yes, I only write when there is a full moon. I’m just joking. My only writing ritual is to have no ritual. I can write any time, any place. In fact I just wrote a chapter book while writing this sentence.

Henry: Damn, you’re good!

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

I would like to have four or five clones so I would have more time to do all the things I want to do, like fly to Mars.

Henry: And think of all the writing that clone could accomplish on the long commute to Mars!

If you could have three authors (alive or dead) over for dinner, who would it be?

I don’t think I would want a dead author at the dinner table, but if I could bring three authors back to life I would enjoy meeting Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe, and Emily Dickinson. Twain because he was so witty, saying such things as “The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.” Poe, because I think he would be creepy, scary, and spooky, and it’s good be creeped, scared, and spooked once in a while. Lastly, Emily Dickinson because she is one of my favorite poets. Meeting her would be a unique and memorable experience, and she wouldn’t hog all the food, I imagine.

Henry: There was a dead poets society, so why not a dead authors dinner? After such a dinner, the expression “neither the twain shall meet” would take on new meaning for Poe and Dickinson.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

I’m partial to dragons, and they, unfortunately, are partial to me.

Henry: Gee, I did not see that coming.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I usually like to track down tarantulas, komodo dragons, and boa constrictors. Actually, I love to read or go to an art museum.

Henry: You just gave me a picture book idea: Kimono Dragons.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

His day is done. His time is through. He wrote a witty poem or two.

Henry: The creatures he drew, many a mind blew. He’s run out of time; here’s his last rhyme.

Where can readers find your work?

In Outer Mongolia and libraries through the world.

Henry: Your works are ubiquitous, though they haven’t yet reached Inner Mongolia.

This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.

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Superheroes in Watercolor

Superheroes in watercolor by Clementine Campardou, from the mad geniuses at Bored Panda.

Sometimes, you need to kick yourself in the butt. That was true for me at least, being the panda that I am. That’s why, some two years ago, I challenged myself to paint a new picture every day, and share it with the world for free. Challenge accepted!

Today, I have published more than 500 paintings, my very own way of spreading happiness, with big splashes of color and happy shapes.

I work mostly with watercolor, I need it to be fast and I like the spontaneity of it. Sometimes paintings seem like they are moving on their own, alive, like clouds in the sky. Shapes can appear from a part you didn’t control, letting your imagination do the work, like a Rorschach test.

Beside finding the time, the challenge is to find the inspiration. Mine comes from the things that either moves me or excite me, or just blow me away. POP culture from the 80’s, movie characters, strong independent women (the real heroes), France where I’m from, or Bondi and Australia, where I live. I have a thing for Super Heroes too :)


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Interview with middle grade and picture book author Bruce Coville

Bruce Coville is the author of over a hundred books for children and young adults. Though he is mostly known for quirky science fiction and fantasy novels for middle grade readers – books such as MY TEACHER IS AN ALIEN and JEREMY THATCHER, DRAGON HATCHER – he has also written picture books, early chapter books, and young adult novels. In addition, he is the founder of Full Cast Audio, an audiobook company devoted to creating unabridged recordings of great children’s books using multiple readers.


For what age audience do you write?

In terms of age, I think I’ve covered about as wide a range as is possible, having written everything from picture books to early chapter books to middle grade novels to YA to one adult novel – and having been editor and lead writer for a magazine for retired people! That said, much the greatest portion of my work has been for the 8 – 12 age group, with most of the books being either fantasy or science fiction.

Henry: I love fantasy and science fiction, ever since reading WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE in elementary school. You know, you could further broaden your range by writing a story for the prenatal… 

Tell us about your latest book.

Through an odd confluence of what I call “calendar gravity” and the general strangeness of publishing, I have two “latest” books, published within two weeks of each other.

The first is GOBLINS ON THE PROWL (Simon & Schuster) which is a sequel to GOBLINS IN THE CASTLE, a book I published back in (ulp) 1992. Fortunately, that first one wasn’t a cliffhanger! The thing is, I loved the characters in that book, and always wanted to go back to them . . . most especially Igor, who is based on my “half-mad twin brother, who lives in the cellar beneath the cellar beneath the cellar in my house.”

At least, that’s what I used to tell my classes back when I was an elementary school teacher. Igor always showed up at the school for our Halloween party, leaping atop a desk and bopping all the kids on the head with his teddy bear. To my great delight, the first goblins book has been constantly in print for nearly a quarter of a century now, and I often hear from teachers that it is one of their essential read-alouds. That particularly pleases me, because I was reading it aloud to my own students back when I was writing the first version of it.

The second new book is called THE DIARY OF A MAD BROWNIE and it was a hoot to write. I spun it off from a short story called “Clean As a Whistle” that I wrote about twenty years ago. The main characters are a somewhat OCD brownie named Angus Cairns, who has a mania for tidiness, and the girl he is assigned to, a dedicated slob named Alex Carhart. It’s sort of like “The Odd Couple” with a 150 year old, foot-high magical creature as Felix, and a 12 year old girl as Oscar.

Aside from their prickly relationship, it turns out that Angus comes with a curse attached, one that afflicts all the males of a family. I don’t want to reveal the details of the curse here, so I will only say that the gods of comedy were smiling on me when I did my research for this one!

Henry: I’ve read THE DIARY OF A MAD BROWNIE, and it’s delightful. I’m hoping Angus will become friends with my upcoming picture book protagonist from WHEN YOU GIVE AN IMP A PENNY.

What do you hope readers will get from reading these books?

Delight. Pleasure. Joy.

Seriously, I don’t write to instruct. I write to tell a story. The thing is, I think if you are any kind of a human being, then what you believe and what you value will rise in the telling, coming from the story itself.

First and foremost I think of myself as an entertainer. I hope that I have, to quote Noel Coward, “a talent to amuse.”

Henry: I often amuse others, sometimes intentionally.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

What surprised and dismayed me as I went along was the discovery that it doesn’t get easier. You would think that after 38 years and 105 books I would have a handle on this. But each book is its own adventure. And since you want to keep improving, you’re constantly raising your own bar, trying to top yourself. That doesn’t always happen, of course . . . it’s not one long upward march to glory.

Henry: Hey, I’m at the beginning of my writing career (I have one traditionally published book out, and two more under contract). Are you trying to be discouraging? :)

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?

It is something that I believed even before I was able to publish, but that has been reinforced over and over again since then, and that is the profound effect your work can have on children, and therefore on the world.

I began working for children in part because it was the most radical thing I could think of to do. The main social currency in this culture is power. However, because we are also a short-term culture, people who work with and for children (the powerless) are often treated with disdain. But if you truly want to have an impact in the world, working with kids is the best way to do it.

I have a folder called “To Look at on Bad Days” and in it are a collection of the most wonderful letters, letters from adults telling me about the impact my books and stories had on their lives. “I joined the Peace Corps because of you.” “You redeemed my childhood.” “I was abused and found a safe place to escape in your books.”

What more could a person ask for?

Henry: A “To Look at on Bad Days” folder is a fantastic idea!

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?

For me, the truly unexpected aspect of writing has been the development of my side career as a speaker, which has taken me all over the world.

In choosing to be a writer, I expected to spend most of my work life hunkered down in my room, pounding away at the keyboard in isolation. And, indeed, that is a big part of my life. But I have also been blessed with the chance to travel the world, speaking in schools from Albany to Sacramento, from Brazil to Bangladesh.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

The first and most important piece is a slight paraphrase of a speech from Winston Churchill: “Never give up. Never give up. Never give up.”

I went to school with people who were better writers than I was. but who will never be published because they gave up. When I am asked the secret of my success, my first answer is always “Bone-headed obstinance.” I’m just too dumb to give up.

Henry: I’m relieved you said “obstinance” and not “abstinence”. Churchill also said, “When you’re going through Hell, keep on going!”

That’s a nice segue to our next question. Do you have any favorite quotes? 

I have a wall full of them! Seriously, I copy things out on index cards and tape them to the hutch above my desk to help keep me on track. I think of all the quotes there, the one that is most important is the one given to me by a friend when I was floundering around trying to make JEREMY THATCHER, DRAGON HATCHER work. My friend was a storyteller, and the quote came from a teacher she was working with, four simple words that I think every writer needs to remember: “Just tell the story.”

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?

Coffee! All right, I suppose that’s not that strange, and only slightly a ritual. But it’s as close as I have to an answer for this.

Henry: Coffee is more of a universal right than a ritual.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

To get stuff right the first time! It would save me so much time and agony! (Not to mention paper!)

Henry: That’s a unique answer. I’m not sure what perfection in an art form looks like, since each agent, editor, and reader can have a different take on the same work.

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?

Charles Dickens, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and J.R.R. Tolkien. Wow. I’m not sure how that would work out as a dinner party, but at various times in my life those were my favorite writers.

It was Burroughs, I think, who set me on the path with his JOHN CARTER OF MARS books. He was a terrible writer, actually, but a magnificent world builder and storyteller.

Then came Tolkien, who opened up new possibilities for me.

Dickens I came to later – it took about thirty years for me to recover from having him force fed to me in high school.

Hmmm. I just realized I might have to shuffle the cards and draw three, because I would also want to have the late and much-mourned Sir Terry Pratchett in that mix. His combination of hilarity and humanity is a model I can only aspire to.

Henry: I’m a Tolkien fanatic, and who could argue with Dickens. I reread JOHN CARTER OF MARS books as an adult, and found they’d lost their charm for me. So, I’m with you on Terry Pratchett.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

The unicorn, of course! Did you expect any other answer from the guy who wrote THE UNICORN CHRONICLES?

Henry: Ummm, also the guy who wrote THE DIARY OF A MAD BROWNIE?

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I love to read, and wish I had more time to do it! I also love going to the theater, especially musicals. I think the world would be a better place if more people would burst into song on a regular basis.

Henry: You clearly haven’t heard me sing…

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

“He made a lot of children happy.”

Henry: Achievement unlocked.

Where can readers find your work?

In good bookstores everywhere! (Seriously, if a bookstore doesn’t have my books, then I don’t consider it a good bookstore. Of course, that’s kind of a personal judgment call.) The big online sites also carry them, of course. And if someone wants a personalized book they can order from my website called, oddly enough, www.brucecoville.com

Henry: I did not see that coming.

This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.


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