Using Picture Books to Interest Young Readers in New Genres – by author Henry Herz

13240064_1100770546649029_4587016448810551750_nI was lucky enough to meet Henry Herz on a cold, spring, rainy day under the SCBWI tent at the Gaithersburg Book Festival. I was selling books and chatting with awesome kids, teens, parents and authors, when Henry came up explaining that he, among other topics, wrote Shakespeare-inspired books for kids. His books are gorgeous, he’s great, and I’m thrilled he wanted to guest post here. Check out his newest venture MABEL AND THE QUEEN OF DREAMS, inspired by Queen Mab from Romeo and Juliet.

 

 

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NY Times bestsellers Brandon Sanderson, Maggie Steifvater, Kami Garcia, Jonathan Maberry & Zac (Heather) Brewer

 

I love fantasy. Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are hooked me in elementary school. And J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings sealed the deal. I write fantasy picture books, like When You Give an Imp a Penny. I moderate fantasy literature panels at San Diego Comic-Con. I even edited a dark anthology, Beyond the Pale, featuring short stories by fantasy greats Saladin Ahmed, Peter Beagle, Zac Brewer, Jim Butcher, Rachel Caine, Kami Garcia, Nancy Holder, Gillian Philip, and Jane Yolen.

As a parent, I wanted to share my love of fantasy with my young sons. I hit upon the idea of writing a fantasy story for them. This turned out to be a pivotal moment for me personally, as it led to my discovering a passion for writing children’s literature. But it also gave me a useful insight. If I wanted my sons to one day read The Lord of the Rings and other great fantasy novels, starting them on fantasy picture books could be a good way to plant that seed. A third unexpected boon was that my sons didn’t just read that story. They gave me feedback, essentially becoming junior co-authors. The fruit of that labor was our self-published fantasy early chapter book, Nimpentoad.

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I also fondly remember reading Bullfinch’s Mythology as an older kid. After a couple of years honing my writing craft, another inspiration struck. Why not write an anthology of fractured nursery rhymes that substituted mythological creatures for some of the original characters? Surely that might interest kids in reading mythology. The result was our first traditionally published book, Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes.

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Hey Doblin, doblin, the gnome and the goblin. The centaur ran through the lawn. / The minotaur laughed to see such sport, and the imp ran away with the fawn.

Although I’d been reading fantasy my whole life, it wasn’t until I had the pleasure of meeting author Kevin Hearne that I discovered urban fantasy. Urban fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy set in an urban setting, typically in contemporary times. Note that the boundary between the subgenres of urban fantasy and paranormal romance is blurry. The use of magic and/or the lack of a romantic focus can help distinguish urban fantasy from paranormal romances like Twilight by Stephanie Meyer, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, and Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.

I devoured Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid series, and went on to enjoy other urban fantasies like The Exile by C.T. Adams, Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher, Weather Warden series by Rachel Caine, Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, Magicians series by Lev Grossman, Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris, Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa, October Daye series by Seanan McGuire, Rebel Angels by Gillian Philip, and Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (yes, technically it’s middle grade/young adult urban fantasy).

image4So, if I could plant literary seeds for fantasy and mythology, why not try urban fantasy? The answer to that question became the bedtime picture book, Mabel and the Queen of Dreams from Schiffer Publishing. Little Mabel was an expert at not going to sleep. She knew all the best bed-avoiding excuses. “I’m thirsty. I need to use the bathroom. Will you tell me a story?” Mom ALWAYS fell for that one. But Mom had the Queen of Dreams in her quiver of bedtime tales. The fae queen paints children’s dreams, so she can only visit when their eyes are closed. As Mom’s tale unfolds, Mabel gradually transitions from sitting on her bed, to slipping her feet under the covers, to laying her head on her pillow, to finally closing her eyes.

“Wait,” you ask. “Doesn’t the presence of the fae queen make this a fairy tail?” I’m glad you asked. The story’s contemporary urban setting violates Tolkien’s definition of a fairy tale. The story takes place in the “real” world, rather than in Faërie. So, Mabel and the Queen of Dreams, though featuring a fairy, is urban fantasy, not fairy tale, or as Tolkien preferred, Märchen (wonder tale).

image5But wait, there’s more! Mabel and the Queen of Dreams is inspired by Mercutio’s soliloquy in Romeo & Juliet, in which he details how the tiny fairy queen Mab influences people’s dreams as she passes by in her flying chariot. An author’s note provides the original Shakespearean language. So, this story serves double duty, planting seeds of interest in both urban fantasy and Shakespeare. *drops mic*

Regardless of subgenre, I hope readers will find in my story what Tolkien posited for Märchen generally. “Far more powerful and poignant is the effect [of joy] in a serious tale of Faërie. In such stories, when the sudden turn comes, we get a piercing glimpse of joy, and heart’s desire, that for a moment passes outside the frame, rends indeed the very web of story, and lets a gleam come through.”

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