This beautiful nonfiction picture book,
Henry Herz’ I AM SMOKE
(Illus. Mercè López / Tilbury House Publishers)
launches on Sept. 14th!
“Herz presents a provocative and unique look at the lifecycle and benefits of smoke throughout the millennia. Lopez’s multimedia artwork further illuminates the ethereal nature of smoke as it drifts and dances across the page.”
– John Rocco, author/illustrator of the Caldecott Honor book BLACKOUT
“Lustrous illustrations and meditative text reflect on the role of smoke in nature and civilization…Using sparse but potent text, author Herz presents smoke as a “swirling, roiling mist” vital to nature and to humans; it’s as important in its mundanity as it soothes bees or flavors food as it is in the sacred, when smoke “participates in prayer” through incense… Smoke dissipates quickly, but this poetic text will linger.
We’re excited to celebrate Herz’ unique, lyrical nonfiction picture book today.
And we have Questions!
Q 1. What is your absolute favorite spread of I AM SMOKE ?
Henry Herz: The cover (above), which is also the final spread of the book. It brings the story full circle, as it is a centuries-later version of the book’s opening spread. It shows that smoke’s “cycle” has been twirling for the millennia since humanity first discovered fire.
Q 2. How did the concept of I AM SMOKE? evolve?
Henry Herz: While there are some picture books with anthropomorphic characters, I’d never seen smoke treated as a character. And who better to explain the various ways in which people have employed smoke than smoke itself? But I needed an overarching structure. I considered the chemistry of smoke. It turns out that wood smoke is primarily carbon dioxide, ash, and water vapor. 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.
The Smoke Cycle
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.
Q 3. They say each book we write is a tiny bit autobiographical. Is there a character in any of your recent books who is most like you? For example…
a. I AM SMOKE – Smoke is the only character and I don’t identify with it. That said, I do love smoked salmon.
b. TWO PIRATES + ONE ROBOT – Come on! Who wouldn’t want to be a space pirate?
c. GOOD EGG AND BAD APPLE – The zucchini, because he’s a loyal friend to Good Egg, and because he suffers a vegie wedgie when Bad Apple yanks up his plastic wrap. We’ve all been the target of bullying at some point.e.
d. CAP’N REX & HIS CLEVER CREW – If you can’t be a space pirate, I’d say the next best thing is a dinosaur pirate. Arrr!
e. HOW THE SQUID GOT TWO LONG ARMS – The crab cracks me up, both because he’s an homage to Jon Klassen’s crab in THIS IS NOT MY HAT, and because he helps deliver justice in the end to the larcenous squid.
Q 4. I love how Smoke, the narrator, speaks in mesmerizing riddles: “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.” If your writing journey thus far could speak in riddles, what would it say about itself?
Henry Herz: Thanks. I think many of my fellow authors will recognize these aspects of the writerly life:
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 am eager to move ideas from my head to paper, but I must be patient while waiting for publisher responses.
Q 6. Were there any surprises that illustrator Mercè López brought to the book?
Henry Herz: Yes! She devised an innovative approach for creating illustrations. Actual swirling smoke was captured on art paper held over smoky candle flames. Then the dancing smoke textures were enhanced with watercolors and Photoshop. Merce López “let the smoke decide how the idea I had in mind would dance with it, giving freedom to the images.” The resulting illustrations are astounding, and they resonate with the otherworldly text.
Q 7. What was the most surprising discovery you made about smoke, as your book went from idea to published book?
Henry Herz: The saying “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” conveys danger. And of course, fire and smoke can be lethal. But I was surprised to find how many beneficial uses smoke has been put to across the world and through the ages.
Smoke has been used to coax seeds to sprout, to drive out pests from homes, to send signals over long distances, to cover foul smells, to calm bees when harvesting honey, to flavor and preserve food, as part of religious ceremonies, and even to heal.
Q 8. What do you hope young readers will take away from I AM SMOKE?
Henry Herz: Aside from the STEM, cultural, and historical facts, that common practices bind humanity across time and space.
What’s next, Henry?
Q 9. Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming title, THE MAGIC SPATULA?
Henry Herz: THE MAGIC SPATULA is a contemporary magical realism early chapter book co-written with multiple Emmy-winning TV chef, Sam “The Cooking Guy” Zien. When he learns that his grandparents are moving away, Matt plans to make them a special dessert. There’s only one problem: he’s never baked before. Worse, to get two bullies off his back, he bets that he’ll win the school baking contest. Matt discovers an ancient spatula and recipe box in the attic. But, will those help enough to win the contest, deflect the bullies, and make a delicious dessert for his grandparents? An appendix includes five kid-friendly dessert recipes.
Q 10. What else is on the horizon for you?
Henry Herz: I have a sci-fi/humor middle grade novel on submission and am revising a fantasy middle grade novel. I just joined as an editor the staff of small publisher Running Wild Press, so that should yield some interesting projects. I AM SMOKE launches September 7, 2021. After that, my writerly activities will include:
-Moderating a San Diego Comic-Con panel with actors from Netflix’s Norsemen series.
-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 joining us, Henry!
You can learn more about Henry Herz and his books on his web site
www.henryherz.com and by following him on social media:
Next up on the blog: My Daddy Can Fly (Forster & Siadat/ RH Studio), illustrated by Jami Gigot.