Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Tales from the TBR: I Am Smoke

We all have our TBRs. I’ve got an impressive or terrifying one, depending on how you look at it. I have such wonderful folx sending me their books, and even if it takes me a while, I do want to talk these books up; hence, the Tales from the TBR feature I’ve been running. There are some truly outstanding books here, and deserve some more face time. When you’re freshening up your backlist, consider adding some of these to your carts, or, if you already have them, put them up. Let’s rock.

I Am Smoke, by Henry Herz/Illustrated by Mercè López, (Sept. 2021, Tilbury House Publishers), $18.95, ISBN: 9780884487883

Ages 6-8

Henry Herz has been putting out some great stories over the years, but his 2021 book, I Am Smoke, is in a class by itself. Written in verse from the point of view of smoke, the story is part anthropological study, part scientific study. Smoke begins with a declaration: “I am Smoke. / I twirl in dark dance from every campfire”, alongside early Native Americans dancing by firelight. The thoughtful verse wanders through time, imparting wisdom and caution in equal amounts: “Even fearless firefighters dare not breathe me when battling flames”; “I cannot touch, but I can help ease pain”. Mercè López’s illustration is breathtaking; created by smoke, watercolor, and Photoshop to create haunting and ethereal images. Copious back matter provides deeper context and resources for further reading. A brilliant book on every level: if you haven’t added this one to your collections yet, you may want to look again.

I Am Smoke has a starred review from Kirkus and has been named to Evanston Public Library’s Blueberry List: Kids’ Book that Inspire Love of Nature and Action for Planet Earth; it was named to the ALA Children’s Notable Children’s Books of 2022 list, and selected for Notable Social Studies 2022 booklist. It also made Kirkus’s List of 150 Most Anticipated Fall 2021 Books.

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, picture books

Can a good egg set a bad apple straight?

Good Egg and Bad Apple, by Henry Herz/Illustrated by Luke Graber, (Sept. 2018, Schiffer Publishing), $16.99, ISBN: 9780764356032

Ages 5-8

Bad Apple is a bully. He taunts all the other food, and his Second Banana – a literal banana – is right there, egging him on (no pun intended. Okay, maybe a little). Good Egg stands his ground and when the bullies start on him, Egg pulls the one weapon out of his arsenal that he thinks has a chance of working: he tells Apple a joke. Sure enough, the humor eases the tension, and Apple joins Egg’s group of friends.

Good Egg and Bad Apple is a fable of sorts, with food standing in to teach kids about bullying and why some bullies do it. In this case, the bully was bullied – sour grapes called Bad Apple names – and as the old saying goes, “hurt people hurt people”. Egg tried to reason with his bully, and it worked. It’s a perfect situation in a perfect world, but if it stops one kid from bullying another, I’ll take it.

The author also uses puns and idioms throughout the story. a glossary at the end explains both forms of speech and provides a list of wordplay used in the story, like “Let us help him”, a quote from Lettuce. The full-page artwork gives the food exaggerated expressions, with large, expressive eyes and wide open mouths (bad guys have a single tooth, to look like quintessential tough guys). Good Egg and Bad Apple works as an additional purchase for morality and bullying collections.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Fables and Fairy Tales from Henry Herz

I fell in love with author Henry Herz’s book, Mabel and the Queen of Dreams, back in 2016. It was a wonderful way to introduce some magic to bedtime, and a nod to The Bard himself. Mr. Herz has two more books coming out this September; one is a fun fable about a selfish squid, and the other, another nod to magic, this time, courtesy of a little girl named Alice.

How the Squid Got Two Long Arms, by Henry Herz/Illustrated by Luke Graber, (Sept. 2018, Pelican Publishing), $16.99, ISBN: 9781455623884

Ages 3-7

Once upon a time, a squid had a splendid silvery scarf knitted for him by his mother, but he was still cold. Rather than go home and bundle up, our little cephalopod decides to steal an octopus’ sweater and a fiddler crab’s mitten; when he tries to snatch an eel’s hat, though, he discovers that taking things without asking can only end one way: trouble! The eel grabbed one of the squid’s 10 arms, and the octopus and crab catch up to get hold of his other arm and get their clothes back! When all is said and done, the squid is still cold, and now he has two really long arms: and a sneaky fish sneaking up to steal his scarf! The straightforward story is a gentle way to reinforce that taking things that aren’t yours is wrong; a nice morality tale set in the friendly ocean. The artwork brings a dose of fun to the story, with wide-eyed marine life and exaggerated expressions (and an eel in a hunter’s cap is pretty fantastic). An author’s note provides a photo and a little bit of background on squid.

My little guy thoroughly enjoyed this story; he had a big-eyed laugh when the squid got his comeuppance, and pointed out all the animals we’d seen at the aquarium a couple of weeks before. It’s a nice add to your shelves, and a fun add to fables, stories about empathy, and books with marine life.  And here are some squid coloring sheets, to enhance the storytime!

 

Alice’s Magic Garden, by Henry Herz/Illustrated by Natalie Hoopes, (Sept. 2018, Familius), $16.99, ISBN: 9781641700320

Ages 5+

Alice in Wonderland fans, get ready: the subtitle here, “Before the rabbit hole”, lets you know what’s going on. Once upon a time, there was a young girl named Alice, who went to the dreariest school in all of England. While escaping her awful headmistress and cruel classmates, Alice happens upon a small, walled garden, and begins tending it, caring for a few of the inhabitants: a caterpillar and a lory bird; she even chases a smiling cat away from a rabbit. Her kindness is paid back at school, when her benefactors leave her tasty treats and take care of those bullies, telling Alice that they are friends “now and forever”. There are wonderful references to the classic tale throughout the story, and readers will fall in love with the magical realism of the garden. The artwork is colorful and calming, delightful for fairy tale fans, and the story itself is all about the power of paying it forward. This one is great storytime reading, and may nudge Mabel aside as my favorite Henry Herz book. Print out some Alice in Wonderland coloring sheets, have a mad tea party, and read this one to your littles.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads

A little bedtime Shakespeare: Mabel and the Queen of Dreams

mabel_covMabel and the Queen of Dreams, by Henry, Joshua, & Harrison Herz, (July 2016, Schiffer), $16.99, ISBN: 9780764351372

Recommended for ages 4-8

Little Mabel is an expert at not going to sleep. After she’s gone through her usual routine of excuses, she asks for a bedtime story. Mom is too happy to oblige, and spins a tale about the Fae Queen, who paints children’s dreams, but will only visit when Mabel closes her eyes, Mabel’s mom describes the Fae Queen and her hazelnut chariot; her dragonfly steed, and the dreams she paints. The words wrap themselves deliciously around Mabel – and the reader’s – imagination, drawing us into the Fae Queen’s world and leaving us all waiting for a visit.

I love this book. I love that a bedtime story for children is inspired by Shakespeare! The Fae Queen comes from Romeo & Juliet, in a soliloquy spoken by the character Mercutio, when he describes how a fairy queen influences  dreams. Lisa Woods’ artwork adds another dimension to the story, with subdued colors and sketch-like illustration; the children’s dreams are portrayed as children’s drawings with bright colors, taking us into their imaginations to see mermaids, superheroes, astronauts, and brave knights. The Fae Queens’ fantasy elements are sweet and inviting, and my favorite part – when Mom tells Mabel how she will feel the Fae Queen’s presence in different ways – are beautifully rendered. I read this to my little one and tickle his nose and neck as the Fae Queen describes hovering and traveling over Mabel. The entire story creates a bedtime experience, lending itself to sweet nighttime cuddling and the promise of a dream adventure. An author’s note at the end gives readers Mercutio’s full speech, and Hamlet’s “What dreams may come” speech.

This book is a wonderful addition to bedtime bookshelves and collections. It’s a hit in our home.

mabel_1

I was thrilled to be able to ask author Henry Herz a few questions about Mabel and the Queen of Dreams – read on!

MomReadIt: I love that you adapted Shakespeare for a picture book audience! What inspired you to create a bedtime story and use the Queen of the Fae as a character?

Henry:  There is something that tickles my funny bone about taking a familiar folk tale and tweaking it. Fractured fairy tales are quite popular – consider INTERSTELLAR CINDERELLA by Deborah Underwood or NINJA RED RIDING HOOD by Corey Rosen Schwartz. The idea popped into my head to write a picture book based on a scene from Shakespeare. As I researched, I came across that oft-forgotten (at least by me) scene in Romeo and Juliet in which Mercutio waxes poetic about the little fairy queen Mab. Queen Mab affects sleepers’ dreams as she flies past, and I thought, what a great premise for a bedtime picture book. Plus, I love getting young readers interested in fantasy, and the idea of writing an urban fantasy bedtime picture book was irresistible. I hope that MABEL AND THE QUEEN OF DREAMS may spark in young readers some interest in reading more Shakespeare.

MomReadIt: Is your main character named Mabel as a nod to Queen Mab?

Henry: That is correct. In my story, Mab is a sleep-resistant girl. In the original, tiny fairy queen Mab’s hazelnut chariot is drawn through the air by a dragonfly. And we have the original Shakespearean soliloquy by Mercutio as an author’s note, so that young readers can compare the original with this modern version.

MomReadIt: I see that your sons are co-authors. How did they contribute?

Henry: They’ve been co-authoring with me since they were about 8 and 10 years old when we first collaborated on our self-published high fantasy early chapter book, NIMPENTOAD. I draft the stories and they review them, giving me feedback from a young reader’s perspective. They have also been instrumental in selling the book at book fairs, farmers markets, etc. They’re even better salesmen than they are writers. Although now that they’re 14 and 16, doing this with Dad isn’t as cool as it used to be…

MomReadIt: I hope we’ll see some more classic works for little ones from you and your family in the future. Thank you so much!

Henry: Thank you very much, Rosemary. We appreciate your support! Readers interested in learning more about our books can visit our website at www.henryherz.com.