HAPPY OCTOBER! In the fun category, I’m Guest Guru at Rate Your Story for the month of October. Check out the interview and learn more about this resource for picture book writers. As part of my special duties, I’ll be rating four stories over the course of the month. So honored to be participating in this way, helping others along this journey. I hope you’ll pour yourself a fresh cup of coffee or tea and pop over for a read. I’ll make it easy for you. Here’s the link to the interview.
Today I’m delighted to host Henry Herz, author of many children’s books, including, most recently, I AM SMOKE (Tilbury House Publishers, 2021) which released two days ago. Illustrated by Mercè López, smoke itself acts as narrator in Herz’s story, telling us how it has served humankind since prehistoric times in signaling, beekeeping, curing and flavoring food, religious rites, fumigating insects, and myriad other ways. The book has already earned a Kirkus starred review, been listed in School Library Journal‘s The Most Astonishingly Unconventional Children’s Books of 2021, Kirkus’s 150 Most Anticipated Fall Books, and Children’s Book Council’s September 2021 list of anticipated bestsellers.
And now for the interview, with my questions bolded.
Welcome, Henry. You write for a variety of ages and in a variety of genres. Tell us a little bit about your writerly journey.
I was an engineer by education and profession. About fifteen years ago, I wanted to share my love of fantasy with my young sons. They were too little for watching most of the fantasy movies. Struck by inspiration one day, I came up with a way to share the joy of entering the magical realms of fantasy. I would create a fantasy book for them. That decision led me to discover my love of writing for kids.
If smoke were to narrate some lessons I’ve learned along my writerly journey, it might say:
I proofread over and over, but my manuscript still contains typos.
I must be in touch with my emotions to write, but I must develop a thick skin to handle the unavoidable rejection by agents and publishers.
I must develop innovative concepts, but my books must fit into what publishers view as marketable categories.
I must submit my manuscript at some point, but I always want to make one more revision.
I am eager to move ideas from my head to paper, but I must be patient while waiting for publisher responses.
What inspired you to write I AM SMOKE?
I’m inspired by many things in the natural world. I love how much personality dogs possess. I’m amazed that you can cut a piece off of a succulent, stick it in the ground, and grow a brand new succulent. That’s like making a whole new person from just a finger! The range of defense mechanisms employed by animals is amazing—from camouflage to squirting ink to being poisonous to mimicking predators.
I find the use of fictional elements to convey facts a great way to engage with young readers and teach them without them realizing it. Fiction can be the melted cheese we pour on top of the broccoli of nonfiction. There are some picture books with anthropomorphic characters, but I’d never seen smoke treated as a character. And who better to explain the various ways in which people have employed smoke over the ages and across the world than smoke itself?
How does one research smoke? Were there any amazing moments where you discovered something completely new to you?
I researched wood smoke and discovered it’s primarily carbon dioxide, ash, and water vapor. That got me thinking about the water cycle. Then it hit me that trees sequester carbon they extract from breathing in carbon dioxide. Eureka! Smoke has a “cycle” too. Fire releases wood’s molecules. Water eventually rains down and trees extract the carbon from the air to grow more wood. The “smoke cycle” became the framework within which I shared some of the many ways smoke has been used to fumigate homes, communicate over distances, cover unpleasant smells, aid beekeepers, flavor and preserve foods, participate in religious ceremonies, and heal.
Teachers and parents are always looking for ways to tie picture books into the curriculum, and I think that’s especially true for a STEM rich book like this. Do you have any extension activities your readers might enjoy?
I don’t have any extension activities developed, but I would like to point out that in addition to its obvious chemistry (STEM) linkage, I Am Smoke can also be used to initiate conversations around history, geography, religion, and social studies.
Finally, what’s next? Are there more books in the pipeline? Also, where can interested readers find your books?
I have a sci-fi/humor middle grade novel on submission and am revising a fantasy middle grade novel. I just became an editor for a small publisher, Running Wild Press. That should yield some interesting projects. My forthcoming books and stories include:
Denver Horror Collective’s adult horror anthology, THE JEWISH BOOK OF HORROR, will include my short story, Demon Hunter Vashti.
Launching in 2022 my contemporary magical realism early chapter book, THE MAGIC SPATULA from Month9 Books with co-author Sam “The Cooking Guy” Zien.
Launching in 2022 the middle-grade #ownvoices anthology from Albert Whitman & Co., COMING OF AGE, including my sci-fi/humor short story, Bar Mitzvah on Planet Latke.
Launching in 2022, the young adult horror anthology from Blackstone Publishing, THE HITHERTO SECRET EXPERIMENTS OF MARIE CURIE, including my short story, Cheating Death.
Highlights for Children has purchased two more of my stories, but I don’t know when those will come out.
Thanks for having me!
Thank YOU for being my guest and for using your writing talents to create great books for kids.
MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Henry Herz is the author of 11 traditionally published children’s books, eight children’s short stories, and over 20 adult short stories. He is co-editor of two children’s anthologies: THE HITHERTO SECRET EXPERIMENTS OF MARIE CURIE (Blackstone Publishing, YA) and COMING OF AGE: 13 B’NAI MITZVAH STORIES (Albert Whitman & Co., MG).
I’m so excited to be a part of a fabulous reading initiative geared to families, librarians, teachers and anyone, really, who enjoys reading picture books with their kids.
Created by founder and picture book author Rebecca J. Gomez, Read, Discuss, Do! exists to help you extend the magic of story time beyond the last page by following three simple steps:
Read a book.
Talk about the book.
Do a simple activity inspired by the book.
And now she’s supercharged the whole experience by launching a website with newsletter devoted to all things #ReadDiscussDo! providing a wonderful landing place for book-themed lists, reviews, activities and more. And she’s asked a team of us to help! (Can you tell I’m excited!)
And today on ReadDiscussDo.com, I am interviewing my friend and children’s author Tina Cho. Tina and I met through our online critique group and I have enjoyed each and every one of her books. I even created a Picture Book Sundays lesson for her MY BREAKFAST WITH JESUS which you can find here. In today’s interview she shares her thoughts on connecting with kids through books, the benefits of reading picture books, and more! You’ll also get a little peek into her newest book THE OCEAN CALLS: A HAENYEO MERMAID STORY.
I hope will take a moment to pop on over for the interview and explore the website. Maybe you’ll even decide to sign up for the newsletter. That way you’ll be first in line for all the wonderful things we have planned for the fall. I’ll make it easy for you. Here’s the link.
This week, I’m delighted to chat with Janna Matthies, a picture book author, who like me, writes books for both the mainstream and faith-based markets. And today, we are celebrating the release of her newest board book God’s Always Loving You, published by WorthyKids and illustrated by Airin O’Callaghan.
Here’s the publisher’s description:
This powerful little book is filled to the brim with hope and comfort. Simple, child-friendly verse outlines relatable moments of crisis, uncertainty, and fear common to a child’s life, and asks who helps us in each of those scenarios. “God, that’s who” is the reliable answer, forming a pattern kids will quickly pick up on. Each answer reinforces the book’s deeply comforting message: God is always there for us. He loves us, He knows us, and He cares about our needs.
This is such a needed message in today’s world. Thank you, Janna for writing it and thank you, WorthyKids, for publishing it! And in the extra neat department, Janna will be mailing one signed copy of the study to one lucky reader, so be sure to check out the details for that at the end of the post. And now, grab a cup of tea and join me as we chat with Janna with my questions bolded.
Thank you so much for joining me today, Janna. Let’s dig right in. First off, tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to write God’s Always Loving You.
When I’m not writing children’s books, I’m a music teacher for grades PreK, K and 1st, and I see all kinds of troubles touch the lives of my students. I also recently walked through a 3-year leukemia battle with a dear friend and her family. So I became interested in writing a book that brings hope and reassurance to kids going through hard times. But I didn’t want to offer platitudes or empty promises, because God’s ways aren’t that simple. My aim was to hone in on the absolute promise that God and His loving presence are always with us.
As one who has been through hard times with my own kids, I’m grateful that you dug deep to write this book, but, oh my, what a tall order. What was your greatest challenge in writing this book?
As I mentioned, I was focused on “the hard times,” but my editor—Melinda Rathjen at WorthyKids—suggested I add a couple stanzas featuring good times, too. At first I was hesitant, not wanting to dilute the impact for readers truly in the valley. But I followed her suggestion, and in the end agreed that the positive stanzas give balance and a vision for the gifts of peace, joy and redemption. I’m grateful to Melinda and also to the fantastic illustrator, Airin O’Callaghan, for her heart-felt, creative partnership.
Yes, I agree! The balance makes the message even richer. What is your greatest desire for the readers who read God’s Always Loving You?
The book is essentially a series of questions, all answered by the refrain, “God, that’s who.” My greatest desire is that readers would see God himself as the answer, and that they’d find His presence to be enough in the midst of whatever they’re going through. It’s natural when we’re down to focus on the thing that we want, the specific answer to prayer that we’re awaiting. My personal hope is that I’d learn more and more to focus on God as the answer, and to trust that the rest will follow.
Besides reading wonderful books such as this, what advice would you give parents and caregivers who want to share their faith with their kids?
In my experience as a mom, teacher, friend, I find that living life authentically in front of kids is critical. Let them see you take quiet time with God, pray in the good and bad times, need others to support you in your own faith journey. Include them in family devotions/movies/book discussions where they can express real feelings and questions. And notice teachable moments when they’re open to hearing stories of your own high and low points as a believer.
These are great and very do-able suggestions. Finally, what’s next? Are there more picture books in the pipeline? Also, where can interested readers find your books?
Yes! My next picture book, HERE WE COME! (Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster, coming spring 2022), is illustrated by Christine Davenier and features an impromptu parade of little musicians in the moonlight. Two more books are currently in contract phase, and a variety of others are being shopped around by my agent.
For buying options and to learn more about Gods’s Always Loving You, click here.
Thank you, Janna, for taking the time to answer these questions so thoughtfully. And now for the promised giveaway!
HERE ARE THE DETAILS FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!! If you’d like a chance to win a complimentary signed copy of God’s Always Loving You, simply post a comment below letting me know. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident and at least 18 years old to enter.) Thank you, Janna, for providing the winning book. This giveaway ends Friday, 7/23/2021 at 11:59 pm EST.
May is in full bloom here in New Jersey and Little Ewe and I (and Little Owl too, as you will see below) have been joyfully counting our way through the week with FIVE wonderful book sharing opportunities! Here’s a roundup of the meadows we visited this week. Thank you for having us!
Meadow #1: VIRTUAL AUTHOR VISIT to Minnesota! Little Ewe and I kicked off the week with a kindergarten author visit at Gethsemane Lutheran Church and School. After a very interactive and enthusiastic reading, each and every kindergartner asked a question. They also wanted me to let illustrator Tommy Doyle know how much they loved his drawings of sheep. I kindly passed the message on, of course, much to his delight. Thank you for having us!
Meadow #2: FRONT STEP STORY TIME. On Tuesday, Little Ewe and I shared LITTLE EWE with the preschoolers at St. Michael’s School in Cranford. They counted along with Little Ewe each step of the way and made wonderful animal sounds – including hooting owls and, of course, sheep! We all enjoyed being outside on such a sunny spring morning. Hooray for front steps and stories!
Meadow #3: VIRTUAL LOVE IS KIND VISIT to Michigan Little Ewe made a brief appearance, but this visit with the k – 8th graders at South Olive Christian School was Little Owl’s chance to shine as I used LOVE IS KIND to show the kids how a book goes from inspiration to publication. Something extra special about this visit is that I actually know one of the teachers – we taught together way back in early 90s when we both just starting our teaching careers. How wonderful it was to reunite via zoom!
Meadow #4: LITTLE EWE BLOG INTERVIEW. This week I am delighted to be hosted by children’s author Mindy Baker in celebration of the release of LITTLE EWE (Beaming Books, 2021).What inspired me to write LITTLE EWE? What’s my writing process like? Find the answers to these and other fun questions in Mindy’s interview. Oh, and there’s a giveaway for one fresh-off-the-press copy of LITTLE EWE! Thank you, Mindy!
Meadow #5: On Wednesday, was interviewed on Instagram LIVE! by one of our local indie bookstores, The Book House in Millburn NJ. This is part of their Local Love Wednesday’s series where they chat with a local author. We chatted about all my books, and I even got dressed up for the occasion – sort of. Curious? Here’s the link. Enjoy!
Little Ewe and I leaped into spring with great joy this week. After what seemed like a long winter, how wonderful it has been these past few days to hear the birds chirping at dawn, to see daffodils and crocuses, and to have four wonderful book sharing opportunities! Here’s a round up and I hope you grab a cup of tea and doing a little jumping from meadow to meadow, er, I mean blog to blog, with me and enjoy what each stop has to offer.
Meadow #1: GARDEN AUTHOR VISIT! On Tuesday I had my first in-person school visit in over a year at Calvary Nursery School and Child Care. The visit took place outdoors at a good social distance and everyone was wearing masks. The children were great listeners and empathized greatly with Little Ewe during her time of being lost. Everyone was relieved when Shepherd found her and it sparked great discussion over times they have been lost and how wonderful it felt to be found. It was the highlight of my week. Here’s a collage that captures the morning:
Meadow #2: INTERVIEW! On Wednesday, Little Ewe and were invited to Pastor Noelle Kirchner’s blog. Noelle is a TV host, pastor, writer, and mother of three boys. She’s also the author of an amazing bible study which I featured on my blog last fall. In my interview with Noelle this week, I answered questions such as “What inspired me to write LITTLE EWE?” and “Do I have a favorite tradition for celebrating Easter with my family?” I also shared several picture books have I found that successfully point children to God. I hope you hop on over to find the answers. Here’s the link. =)
Meadow #3: GUEST POST: FIVE SIMPLE STEPSFOR USING PICTURE BOOKS TO POINT LITTLE ONES TO GOD. A big thank you to blogger, writer, and speaker Sally Matheny for hosting me on her blog this week as I shared a topic close to my heart: using picture books to spark meaningful faith conversations with our little ones. Earlier this month she also reviewed LITTLE EWE. You can find the review here and the guest post here.
Meadow #4: REVIEW! 12 Things to Love About Laura Sassi’s LITTLE EWE Last, but not least, leap on over to picture book author Rebecca J. Gomez’s blog for her thoughts on LITTLE EWE. Thank you, Rebecca!
One of my favorite parts of having a new book out is getting to visit other people’s blogs. And today, I’m feeling thankful for the lovely invitation I received from children’s author Darlene Beck Jacobson to be interviewed on her blog in celebration of the release of LITTLE EWE (Beaming Books, 2021). In the interview she asks things like, “Did you intend to write this story in rhyme?” What do you think? Did I? Find the answer to this and other fun questions in today’s interview. Oh, and in the extra fun category, there’s a giveaway for one fresh-off-the-press copy of LITTLE EWE! Thank you, Darlene!
In the super exciting department, my interview with best-selling children’s author Amy Parker and co-host Mike Nawrocki (aka “Larry the Cucumber” for all you Veggie Tales fans) is this week’s podcast episode on The Bible for Kids! What a WONDERFUL way to introduce families to LITTLE EWE!
Per their website, the goal of The Bible for Kids is “to provide a platform of discovery and information for authors, platforms, musicians, games, films, and more, that seek to help instill biblical principles in kids. We desire to be a resource for churches, small groups, teachers, parents, grandparents of kids ages 0-18 to help them pass along Christian values to the kids in their lives.”
Thank you, including me and Little Ewe!
Click here to got to their podcast page. You’ll find us there!
I’m so excited to be teaching the Master Class on Picture Writing for the Write2Ignite Conference for Christian Writers of Children’s and Young Adult Literature this coming April 24, 2021. Taught virtually – so writers from near and far can attend – it’s going be a day full of learning and fun – all while stretching our story-telling skills. And today, as way of introduction, they’re interviewing me on their blog! I hope you’ll pop on over to check it out. Registration details are included at the end of the post… and there’s a giveaway! Here’s the link:
One of the fun parts of having a new book release is visiting other blogs to celebrate! And today I’m delighted to kick things off with a visit to Kathy Temean’s blog to share the LITTLE EWE’S book journey from inspiration to publication. I met Kathy several years ago at a NJ SCBWI June Conference and she’s a wonderful champion of all things kid lit. She posts daily on her blog and I’m honored to be featured today. There’s also a giveaway, so hop on over! Thank you for having me, Kathy!