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The Picture Book Buzz

I Am Smoke - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

It is so exciting when authors find interesting and inventive ways to capture the reader's attention and present nonfiction material in a new manner. This week's #PPBF choice presents the "cycle" of smoke through the point of view of Smoke itself. It is ingenious and gorgeous; a lyrical ode to the power, ferocity, and usefulness of smoke.

I Am Smoke

Author: Henry Herz

Illustrator: Mercè López

Publisher: Tilbury House Publishers

Ages: 6-8



"Cycle" of smoke, history, environment, and helpfulness of smoke.


Smoke itself acts as narrator, 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.

Smoke 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…". This rhythmically powerful narration is complemented by illustrations in which 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. With this unique method, 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.

Opening Lines:

I am smoke.

I twirl in dark dance from every campfire.

Flickering flames work their mysterious

magic on burning branches.

I am born a swirling, roiling mist of

carbon dioxide, water vapor, and ash.

What I LOVED about this book:

By framing the lyrical riddles from the point of view of Smoke, Henry Herz invites the reader to think about smoke in a new way. Accompanied by Mercè López's stunning illustration, Smoke begins by describing its origin, "I am born a swirling, roiling mist of carbon dioxide, water vapor, and ash.

Text © Henry Herz, 2021. Image © Mercè López, 2021.

As you marvel at the etherealness of this image, ponder this - Smoke is not only the narrator, but also the illustrator of its story. The swirling smoke was actually created by holding art paper over a smoking candle. The molecules and colors were enhanced with watercolor and photoshop. But the little flecks & charred bits and wisps of smoke were made by Smoke itself.

This unique book immediately captures the reader's attention and masterfully guides the reader through a series riddles to discover many interesting dichotomies of smoke. For instance, "I am gentler than a feather, but I can cause harm..."

Text © Henry Herz, 2021. Image © Mercè López, 2021.

Notice it even burned a portion of the page next to the firefighter. And instead of being grey and wispy, it is turned thick and dark. Though it's both gentle & harmful, Smoke has also helped people. Smoke's riddles show how Huron farmers used smoke to encourage pumpkin seeds to sprout, Greeks chased pests out of temples, Chinese & native Americans used smoke signals, Beekeepers quieted bees, and Butchers flavored and preserved meats. I loved this particular spread, not just for the riddle - "I cannot kneel or bow, but I can participate in prayer." - but for the glorious diversity displayed in the illustration and the text.

Text © Henry Herz, 2021. Image © Mercè López, 2021.

Having proved its helpfulness, Smoke continues with its "cycle." Describing how it becomes water vapor and carbon dioxide molecules that trees use to grow, until... You'll love the following lyricism and beautiful images which wrap it all up into circular loop. Because Smoke's "messages swirl and shift like smoke itself," the back matter examines each riddle, offering a bit more scientific explanation, touching on environmental issues, health issues, and giving examples from around the world.

It is an enticing and stunning book about something often overlooked; a force both helpful and destructive. Definitely creative, unusual, and engaging, this is a wonderful nonfiction about our historic and current relationship with smoke that is sure to appeal to kids and adults.


- what was your favorite smoke riddle? Can you create such a riddle for something else?

- can you create a story, or draw a picture, about an object that can be both good and bad from its own point of view?

- what is your favorite thing to cook over a campfire or firepit?

- with an adult, try some smoke experiments: a smoke waterfall ( or lighting a candle with smoke (

If you missed it, be sure to check out Monday's interview with Henry Herz (here).

This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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