BY CURTIS SILVER 12.26.12
There is this point in the development of children where for a moment you no longer want them to stay young and innocent, but you want them to grow up just a little bit. This point is when they have begun to read a bit, are showing an interest in your interests, but most of your favorite sci-fi and fantasy worlds are still out of reach. So, you look for things to bridge that gap, to maintain an interest so they can easily transition from The Hobbit to The Silmarillion. The problem is that the fantasy and sci-fi materials for that transition age are few and far between. This was the problem facing Henry Herz. So, he wrote his own fantasy children’s book.
The book is called Nimpentoad and in true geek father tradition, he didn’t write it alone. With the help of his then five and seven year old sons, Henry set out to at least write a book he could enjoy with his children in both the creative process and reading. What Henry didn’t fully anticipate was how involved the kids would be in the creation of not only the character names, but plot lines and the overall look and feel of the book. Collaborating with illustrator Sean Eddingfield, the kids had final art approval. Very risky, but the gambit paid off.
Henry told me via email what collaboration with children is like, and it’s just as you would expect. “Collaborating with kids is a very different affair than collaborating with an adult. Their work ethic is, shall we say, less disciplined. This can be mitigated by making the working sessions more like play sessions – we’re telling a story, not crafting a manuscript. And once we began creating the artwork, the boys’ interest grew as they saw images of Nimpentoad and the other fantastic creatures come to life.”
The result is a fantasy chapter book for young readers about a group of creatures called the Niblings. Nimpentoad leads them through the goblin infested Grunwald Forest, overcoming obstacles and a bevy of odd creatures. There are lessons of teamwork, creativity, perseverance, leadership and anti-bullying peppered throughout the tale. The illustrations are spectacular, the book reads at the level it was written for (young readers just at that chapter book level) and it isn’t laden with overbearing fantasy or sci-fi concepts. Instead, it’s a basic tale of adventure with fantasy creatures that tell an engaging story that children and adults will love.
Not only is Nimpentoad a great book bridging the gap in the fantasy genre between too young and not old enough, but the book is presented along the lines of obvious influences like Where the Wild Things Are with a childlike wonderment to creatures that are not what they seem on the surface. The lessons within are traditional and sound, but never is it preachy or overtly cliche. Already well reviewed on Amazon, the book could easily be a new fantasy classic for children.
So now Henry, Josh (12) and Harrison (10) had themselves a book. The thing was, after reading it a couple hundred times, they needed to publish it. Henry decided that he would handle the web promotion, but enlist the boys to handle a good deal of the face to face promotion. Starting with elementary school classes, the boys learned about public speaking and how to talk to crowds, but they weren’t selling yet and everyone knows, only closers get coffee. Once they mastered public speaking, the next step was getting sales. So Henry set the boys up at the local farmer’s market.
“We’ve found selling our book at farmer’s markets to be surprisingly successful,” Henry told me. “Imagine trying to coldly walk past two charismatic young booth operators who ask ‘would you like to see the book WE wrote?’ But as before, they needed guidance. They had to be coached about engaging effectively with passersby – smile, sit up, and speak to them. My sons learned how to answer commonly asked questions about the book and their participation in its creation. And how to change a twenty dollar bill, or deal with someone who tries to haggle on price.”
So not only did Henry write a children’s fantasy book with his children, but he taught them to sell it as well. What sells a children’s book better than children? Once the boys got the sales bug, they didn’t show any signs of slowing down. They started doing radio interviews about the book and the process, as well as being spotlighted in Young Entrepreneur Magazine. The two boys (seen here along with their father) are a testament to the creativity and ingenuity that still exists in children.
The trio has not slowed down the promotional train either. Art from the book is featured on The Hobbitmovie website, as an entry in the “Treasures of Middle-Earth Design Contest,” and the boys have been participating in book readings and signings. Self publishing is not an easy business, something these two young authors are learning along with their father. While they are lining up a traditional publisher for the Nimpentoad sequel, the boys are working on a new book in the meantime.
“We are working on another book. It will be about a very clever sloth who travels the world helping his animal friends deal with threats to their habitats,” the Herz clan said. “The book will be for four to eight year-olds, and will teach kids about empathy, teamwork, and protecting the environment.”
You can pick up Nimpentoad at Amazon either in a traditional paperback or Kindle version.