Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Behind the Book . . . with Henry Herz (and a GIVEAWAY!*)

Well, look who's in the Cottage today . . it's Henry Herz, author of the picture books Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes, Mabel and the Queen of Dreams, and the brand-new Little Red Cuttlefish, which really tickled our cuttlebone!

Hey, Henry, we have to know . . . how did you end up writing a picture book starring a  cuttlefish?

"I love writing the same genres I enjoy reading, which includes the unlikely pair, fantasy and science. While taking a picture book writing class, I decided to write a fractured fairy tale. For those unfamiliar with the concept, a fractured fairy tale is a new spin on an old classic, like Deborah Underwood's INTERSTELLAR CINDERELLA.

I selected LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD as my fairy tale, but then had to decide how to change the story. How would I blend fantasy and science? How about using a fascinating animal as a protagonist? One day, the idea of using a cuttlefish came to mind. Cuttlefish are awesome! And using a sea creature would enable me to tell the story in a noticeably different setting than the original.

LITTLE RED CUTTLEFISH is thus an aquatic retelling of the classic fairy tale. In the original, the gullible Little Red Riding Hood is swallowed whole by the wolf — not a very savory outcome (for the girl, anyway). In LITTLE RED CUTTLEFISH, the plucky cephalopod protagonist uses her wits and natural defense mechanisms to thwart a hungry tiger shark.

Aside from a more positive outcome and theme (they were called the Brothers Grimm, after all), the aquatic version is intended to spark young readers' interest in learning about sea creatures, zoology, and science in general. Toward that end, the story showcases the superhero-like abilities of cuttlefish, and an author's note serves up fascinating facts about cuttlefish and tiger sharks, an excerpt of which is below.

Cuttlefish aren’t fish at all. They are members of a class of animals that includes squids, octopuses, and nautiluses. They have a porous shell inside their bodies, called a cuttlebone, which is used to control their buoyancy.

Male cuttlefish have eight arms and two tentacles. Female cuttlefish have only six arms and two tentacles. The arms and tentacles have suckers for grabbing prey. And if that isn't strange enough, their blood is greenish blue.

Cuttlefish have an amazing ability to quickly change the color, pattern, and texture of their skin. Cuttlefish can use this camouflage to sneak up on their prey, which consists mostly of crabs and fish. 

The cuttlefish's ability to quickly change color also helps it avoid being hunted by sharks, dolphins, seals, and other predators. If camouflage doesn't work and it is spotted by a predator, a cuttlefish can squirt out a cloud of brown ink to help it hide.

Now, what kid wouldn't want the superpowers of changing color, squirting ink, and multiple sucker-covered arms? None! Thus, we have used a fractured fairy tale to make science more interesting to young readers. And they lived happily ever after."

* And now for the GIVEAWAY!!! Henry is kindly sending a copy of his fantasy picture book, If You Give an Imp a Penny, to one lucky reader! To enter to win, simply leave a comment below! 
 “I hope an imp never asks me for a penny and comes into my studio! He is kind of cute in a 'Cat in the Hat comes and messes up your house' kind of way. His little grin makes it hard to stay mad at him. Mr. Herz must have a few imps at home because he captures that childlike ability to wreak havoc and still be likable. The illustrations by Abigail Larson help convey the innocent—ok, not so innocent, but certainly not intentional—way the little guy keeps making things worse!” —Kelly Light, author and illustrator of LOUISE LOVES ART!

About the Book
by Henry, Josh, & Harrison Herz
illustrated by Kate Gotfredson
Pelican (September 2016)
ISBN 978-1455621460
“Heroic Little Red makes such a splash that even though no one gets eaten or cut open, even the most ghoulish among young readers won’t be disappointed. Along with silly bits, this buoyant benthic variant includes lots of authentic marine detail.” — Kirkus

Little Red jets off to take fresh crab cakes to her grandmother. Everything goes swimmingly—until a big, bad tiger shark attacks! Little Red has to use her cuttlefish defenses—camouflage, quick reflexes, and squirting an ink cloud—to outwit the shark, combining science and spunk. Gorgeous illustrations depict the reef and its adorable main character with lively detail. The authors include information about cuttlefish and tiger sharks, addressing Common Core standards, as well as resources for further reading. After reading, remember to sleep tight—and don’t let the copepods bite!

About the Author
Henry Herz is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) and the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). Henry participates in literature panels at a variety of conventions, including San Diego Comic-Con and WonderCon. 
Henry created KidLit Creature Week (, an annual online gallery of monsters, creatures, and other imaginary beasts from children’s books. He reviews children’s books for the San Francisco Book Review and the San Diego Book ReviewFor more info about Henry's books, visit his website.


  1. I'm a huge fan of cephalopods--they're such cool and interesting creatures! Congrats on your books, Henry!

    1. Thanks, Maria. The "official" LITTLE RED CUTTLEFISH page is, and includes a book trailer and will shortly include a study guide for all friends of cephalopods.

  2. I like this idea of weaving science into fairy tales. Ordering book today to use as mentor text for my own writing life and to share with students.