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  • Writer's pictureManju Howard

How Author Henry Herz Gives Smoke a Voice in his New Picture Book

Hi writers, illustrators and readers! I’m excited to highlight Henry Herz’s tenth traditionally published children's book, I AM SMOKE, which just released by Tilbury House Publishers.

For our Kidlit Creatives Members, Henry is offering one picture book manuscript critique.

To WIN this special prize, follow the directions at the end of this post.

First, I want to share illustrator Merce Lopez Ascanoio’s cover art!

Swirling smoke was captured on art paper held over smoky candle flames, and the dancing smoke textures were then deepened and elaborated with watercolors and Photoshop finishes.

Hi Henry! Congratulations on receiving a starred review from Kirkus for your picture book, I AM SMOKE. How did you research smoke? Were there interesting facts that you left out?

One thing leads to another in planning a book. Water vapor got me thinking about the water cycle—water evaporates from rivers, lakes, and oceans to form clouds. Eventually, the water precipitates as rain or snow. Rinse and repeat. I researched the chemistry of smoke. It turns out that wood smoke is primarily carbon dioxide, ash, and water vapor.

Then I considered the carbon dioxide given off by wood smoke. Two oxygen atoms and one carbon atom. Carbon... Inspiration struck like lightning splitting a tree. Plants are the lungs of the Earth. They breathe in carbon dioxide through their stomata. They drink up water through their roots. Sunlight provides energy to split those molecules. The plant forms cellulose from carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen, sequestering more and more carbon as they grow. Conversely, burning tree branches releases the stored carbon. Eureka! Smoke has a “cycle” too.

Henry: I like the voice of Smoke. “I lack a mouth, but I can speak. I lack hands, but I can push out unwanted guests. I’m gentler than a feather, but I can cause harm.”

Did you experiment with other voices for this book?

Prior to I Am Smoke, I'd only sold fiction books. I did write a creative nonfiction picture book narrated by a flea. But that cocky insect voice was done for the sake of humor. In this case, since smoke has been harnessed by people for millennia, I thought letting it tell its own tale, like an ancient supernatural being, would grant gravitas to the narrator's voice. Like smoke itself, the narrator is dark, spare, and mysterious.

Henry: Since I AM SMOKE is nonfiction, did you have any input on the pictures?

My editor at Tilbury House graciously gave me the opportunity to view preliminary sketches. I offered some suggestions, but the illustrator, Merce Lopez, was already on the right track as far as I was concerned. Then the full-color work came in and I was stunned (in a good way). I think she's done a phenomenal job capturing the dark, ephemeral nature of smoke as well as human cultures across the globe and throughout the ages. I am most thrilled about the cover, which was originally going to be a different, simpler illustration. I proposed we instead use the final interior spread of the book, and they took my suggestion. I'm so glad they did, as I think the cover is stunning.

Thanks very much, Henry!

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).


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Prize offer: For a chance to win one critique of a PB manuscript from Henry - Read the post, leave a comment on our Kidlit Creatives page (must be a member) and share this interview on your Twitter or Facebook. Deadline to enter is Friday, September 24th.

All posts on Manju's blog promote members of Kidlit Creatives: Create, Query & Support.

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