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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Henry Herz and Review of I Am Gravity

Henry Herz writes fiction and creative nonfiction for children. His children's short stories have appeared in Highlights for Children, Ladybug Magazine, and elsewhere.


Author Photo of Henry Hertz

He’s the author of 11 picture books, including I Am Smoke, illustrated by Mercè López (2021), Two Pirates + One Robot, illustrated by Shiho Pate (2019), Good Egg And Bad Apple, illustrated by Luke Graber (2018), How The Squid Got Two Long Arms, Illustrated by Luke Graber (2018), Alice's Magic Garden, illustrated by Natalie Hoopes (2018), Cap'n Rex & His Clever Crew, illustrated by Benjamin Schipper (2017), When You Give An Imp A Penny, illustrated by Abigail Larsen (2016), Mabel And The Queen Of Dreams, illustrated by Lisa Woods (2016), Little Red Cuttlefish, illustrated by Kate Gotfredson (2016), and Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes, illustrated by Abigail Larsen (2015). 

Collage of ten of Henry Hertz's published books.

If you missed your earlier interviews check them out (here), (here) and (here).


Henry’s newest picture book, I Am Gravity, was released on April 16th.


Welcome back Henry! Thank you so much for stopping back to talk about your newest picture book.

 

What is one of the most fun or unusual places where you’ve written a manuscript?

 

That is a great question. 99% of the time I’m at my desk at home. I’ve worked on a picture book manuscript on an airplane. I generated picture book ideas while touring Israel. I also worked on a middle grade sci-fi novel while at a Highlights retreat.

  

Israel and Highlights sound like great places to find ideas and inspiration. What was the inspiration or spark of curiosity for I Am Gravity?


Book cover - baseball falling, with a arc of gravity behind it toward the glove of a girl baseball player.

I didn’t plan any follow-on books to I Am Smoke until after it sold. At that point, I considered a number of physical phenomena to anthropomorphize. I was drawn to gravity because I recalled from academic classes it was a fascinating topic.


Interesting, now I wonder what other topics you might to a companion books. As a sequel to I Am Smoke, was it any harder to write this book? Why or why not? What was the most fun about writing I Am Gravity?


I wouldn’t say it was harder to write. Both books required creativity and research. I definitely had to brush up on my physics, astronomy, and cosmology. After the manuscript was drafted and edited, I also ran it by a PhD physicist and a PhD astronomer to ensure I hadn’t inadvertently violated the laws of the universe. The choice of a book subject that is invisible and only detectable by its influence on other things certainly made illustrating it more challenging for Mercè López.

 

I can imagine. But she did a great job. How long did it take from the first draft to publication for I Am Gravity?


Ah, you’re making me check on my computer. The first draft was written in July 2021. I signed a contract with Tilbury House in November 2021, and it will be published in April 2024. The long pole in the tent was waiting for the same illustrator who did the gorgeous art in I Am Smoke to become available.

 

She is a phenomenal illustrator. She was definitely worth the wait. When you first saw Mercè López’s illustrations, did anything surprise or amaze you? Which is your favorite spread?

 

It was no surprise that she did amazing work. This time, she went dark, on many spreads almost sepia-toned, not just for celestial scenes but even terrestrial ones. Mercè chose a pale orange to show the influence of invisible gravity. I think she experimented with iron shavings and magnets to develop the patterns. That’s not accurate from a physics perspective, but it creates evocative graphics. There are fun little winks in there, like a dandelion puff from I Am Smoke, an apple in homage to Sir Isaac Newton, and a spaceship that’s awfully familiar-looking. She created a couple of spreads where the right side mirrors and complements the left in a visually stunning way. I’m so thrilled to be paired with her again.


Internal spread - A butterfly swooping up and a whale diving below the water as gravity swooshes along in their wake.

Text © Henry Herz, 2024. Image © Mercè López, 2024.


Here’s my favorite spread (though that’s a Sophie’s choice).


I agree that this one is stunning! And I never said my questions would be easy. What's something you want your readers to know about or gain from I Am Gravity?

 

Once a star’s fuel is used up, gravity takes over. If the star is big enough, its rapid collapse creates shock waves, blasting the outer part of the star into space. Some of that debris may eventually collide with interstellar molecules to form new stars and planets. The heavier elements that make up your body—like carbon, nitrogen, silicon, oxygen, and iron—were originally forged within the cores of stars. You are literally made of stardust!

 

Gravity keeps us alive, too. It maintains Earth’s orbit around the sun by counteracting the outward centrifugal force generated by Earth’s elliptical path. Without the sun’s gravity, Earth would be flung into the cold of space. With gravity, we receive just enough light and heat for life to thrive. Gravity similarly keeps the moon balanced in orbit around the Earth. Via gravity, the moon causes the oceans to ebb and flow. Gravity keeps the air and water in Earth’s atmosphere from simply drifting into space. Winds blow because gravity pulls down colder (denser) air. Rain falls because of gravity.

 

Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?


A bunch! The third and fourth picture books in the “I Am…” series are written. I’m in discussions with a publisher about a picture book series, and another publisher about a lyrical picture book, A Book About Nothing (not inspired by Seinfeld). I’ve got a sci-fi picture book and a sci-fi middle grade novel out on submission.


Collage of two of Henry Hertz's upcoming releases.

I have a YA contemporary fantasy anthology, Wink (Brigids Gate Press) coming out in June, a middle grade contemporary anthology, The Festival of Lights (Albert Whitman & Co.) coming out in September, and an adult World War II fantasy anthology, Combat Monsters (Blackstone) coming out next year. I’ve got a couple other anthology projects on submission.


We'll have to keep our eyes open for these books. What is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why? 


Photo of trail through Redwoods National Park.

Hmm. You caught me by surprise with that question. The Redwood National Park because I have an inexplicable love of trees. It would be wonderful to see those big boys.

 

I’d also like to visit the stunning grandeur of Yosemite National Park.

 

 Last question, what is the best advice you’ve ever gotten - whether it’s regarding writing, publishing, or not?

 

Writing advice: Read widely in your intended market/genre, hone your craft with practice writing and the help of critiquers, develop a thick skin, and be patient.


General advice: Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.

 

Thank you, Henry, for stopping by. It was wonderful to get to chat with you again.


To find out more about Henry Herz, or contact him:


Review of I Am Gravity


A fan of Henry Herz and Mercè López's first book, I Am Smoke, I was excited to see this companion picture book. And even more so to learn in our interview that he has written books three and four, turning this into a full series. I can't wait to learn what the other subjects are. This gorgeous picture book is a wonderful introduction for kids to gravity's role in space and their everyday lives.

Book cover - baseball falling, with a arc of gravity behind it toward the glove of a girl baseball player.

I Am Gravity

Author: Henry Herz

Illustrator: Mercè López

Publisher: Tilbury House Publishers (2024)

Ages: 4-8

Informational Fiction


Themes:

Gravity, science, and space.


Synopsis:

What reaches everywhere and never tires? Pulling on feathers and galaxies alike? Holding the mighty Milky Way together? Gravity, of course!


Told in lyrical, riddling first-person narrative, Gravity boasts of its essential role in life as we know it--from the pulling of the ocean's tides to the vastness of the stars in the sky. Back matter about the science of gravity and major historical discoveries enhances the book for STEM learning.


Opening lines:

I am gravity.


You feel me but cannot see me.

I reach everywhere, touching everything . . .


. . . a butterfly landing on your outstretched palm,

a whale diving deep, the moon far above.


What I LOVED about this book:

This wonderfully lyrical opening is accompanied by an equally stunning illustration! I love the way that Mercè López uses swooping sepia/orange lines throughout the book to represent gravity; a force that affects our lives every day yet is unseen. What an interesting challenge for an illustrator.


Internal spread - A butterfly swooping up and a whale diving below the water as gravity swooshes along in their wake.

Text © Henry Herz, 2024. Image © Mercè López, 2024.


As a companion for I Am Smoke, this book follows a similar format exploring the amazing attributes and effects of gravity. Using the repeating refrain, "I am gravity," to great effect Although personifying gravity, Henry Herz offers a ton of accurate and fascinating facts in the text and the back matter. As with smoke, where the description of a "swirling, roiling mist of carbon dioxide, water vapor, and ash," is subtly accompanied by images of molecules, Mercè López again used molecules to complement the text's lyrical description of gravity's celestial effects. I love the awe and wonder in the faces of the kid, adult, and even the dog! What a great conversation starter for a child curious about these notations.


Internal spread - a child and an adult stand on a blacony watching a swirling cloud of hydrogen and the birth of a new star.

Text © Henry Herz, 2024. Image © Mercè López, 2024.


I gather hydrogen clouds in the vast, cold remoteness of space,

compressing them into giant swirling knots. I squeeze so fiercely that

hydrogen can fuse into helium, forging stars.

There is light. Far-flung lamps

twinkle in the night sky.


I love the image of gravity "tethering the moon to the Earth," with the representation of gravity fanning from the bottom of the moon toward the earth. There are so many amazing descriptions of how gravity interacts with us daily and stunning illustrations. I can't show, or describe them all, but as a Star Trek fan, I have to show you the wonderful nod in the illustration about gravity's connection to black holes . . . it made me smile!


Internal spread - a dark hole sucking in planets and space ships as gravity swirls around them.

Text © Henry Herz, 2024. Image © Mercè López, 2024.


I adore how the book subtly wraps 'back' to the beginning and the second image above. It also has a really sweet ending, perhaps unexpected in a book on gravity. Unlike I Am Smoke, this one is not written as a series of riddles, but more as a letter to the reader. The further expansion in the back matter will appeal to the older end of the age range and adults. It is a stunning picture book which captivatingly introduces kids to the power and effects of the unseen force of gravity.


Resources:

Collage photo of four gravity experiments.

  • how would you explain or draw gravity?


  • pair this with The Gravity Tree: The True Story of a Tree That Inspired the World by Anna Crowley Redding, illustrated by Yas Imamura and On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky.


Some accolades from authors and Betsy Bird for I Am Gravity:

“Once again, Herz and López tackle the intangible and make it relatable. I Am Gravity poetically explores the one force that affects all matter while creating a launchpad for further exploration.”

– John Rocco, #1 NY Times bestselling author/illustrator and Caldecott Award honoree

“This brilliantly crafted book takes a nearly unfathomable force and somehow makes it understandable—and feel like a friend.”

– Ame Dyckman, NY Times bestselling author

“From a butterfly landing on a hand to the entire universe, the abstract concept of gravity is lucidly and lyrically explained and illustrated. Gravity as a forever “hug” — I like that.”

– Deborah Freedman, award-winning author/illustrator

“Holy moly. I think you’ve just written something even better than I Am Smoke.

 – Betsy Bird, librarian and blogger for School Library Journal

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Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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