An archive of reviews and profiles. Don’t forget to check the blog and the awards page for more up-to-date entries.
Two reviews for my new book Dream of Night!
School Library Journal:
HENSON, Heather. Dream of Night. 224p. CIP. S & S/Atheneum. May 2010. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-1-4169-4899-5. LC 2009026213.
Gr 5-8–Three lives and three story lines merge as readers get to know a former racehorse, a 12-year-old girl, and a middle-aged woman. Dream of Night was a successful Thoroughbred until an undetected injury led, over time, to horrific abuse and neglect. Shiloh and her mom suffered unspeakable domestic violence, landing Shiloh in increasingly ineffective foster homes. Jess has spent years working with rescued horses and foster kids, but thinks that perhaps she is too old now for either one. Night and Shiloh both end up at Jess’s farm and are needy, angry, and incapable of trust. Eventually, cracks begin to appear in the walls that the two have erected, and a crisis cements their bond. Within each chapter, the third-person narration switches from character to character, with each portion labeled. The brief sections use few words to maximum potential, developing each character and focusing on believable behaviors. While accepting Night’s line of thought occasionally requires a leap of faith, this is a touching read with a satisfying ending. Recommend it to kids who have heard about Dave Pelzer’s A Child Called “It” (Health Communications, 1995) and to animal lovers or girls who read reluctantly.–Faith Brautigam, Gail Borden Public Library, Elgin, IL
Once Dream of Night was a champion racehorse, but by the time Jess DiLima gets him he’s nearly dead from starvation and pneumonia, and his thin hide is covered in scars. Twelve-year-old Shiloh is scarred, too, both from physical abuse and from the emotional withering of years in foster care. Jess doesn’t feel up to the challenge of either one of them, but she knows that she may represent their last chance. Henson’s story unfolds in a tight, third-person, present-tense narration that shifts its focus among the three principals: Jess, Shiloh and Night. Her novel, like her characters, shimmers with anger and hope. She doesn’t pull her punches—the scenes and flashbacks of abuse are realistically graphic—but she also never lets the details overwhelm the narrative, always offering the possibility of redemption. The author understands, too, that victory is not necessarily a blue ribbon won or a family reunited—sometimes it’s just the quiet triumph of a girl confidently brushing a horse in a stall. Another impressive book by the author of Here’s How I See It—Here’s How It Is (2009). (Fiction. 8-14)
GREAT NEWS: That Book Woman has won a prestigious Christopher Award. The Christophers, which have been given since 1945, “recognize media [feature films, books for children and adults, and broadcast and cable TV programs and their creators] that remind audiences and readers of all ages and faiths, and of no particular faith, of their power to make a difference in their communities and the world-at-large,” said Judith Trojan, director of the Awards, which will be presented at a gala at the McGraw-Hill Building in New York City. For more information about the Christopers, click here.
MORE GREAT NEWS: That Book Woman is the 2009 winner of the Great Lakes Book Award in the Children’s Picture Book category! Heather will travel to Cleveland to receive her award at the annual GLBA dinner on Friday, October 2.
“Founded in 1995, The Great Lakes Book Awards annually honor the year’s brightest and most deserving books about America’s heartland. Established by the Great Lakes Booksellers Association, the purpose of the awards is to recognize and reward excellence in the writing and publishing of books that capture the spirit and enhance awareness of the Great Lakes region.”
AND EVEN MORE: That Book Woman has been chosen for the 2010-11 Texas Bluebonnet Award reading list. According to the
Texas Bluebonnet Award Web site, the “reading program was established in 1979 to encourage Texas children to read more books, explore a variety of current books, develop powers of discrimination, and identify their favorite books.” Nominations “are solicited from librarians, teachers, parents, students and other interested persons.”
That Book Woman was an honorable mention for Favorite Picture Book of the Year in the 2008 “Cuffies” from Children’s Booksellers nationwide! Click here to read the story in Publishers Weekly.
Special mention was made of Heather and That Book Woman on the First Book blog.
First Book is a nonprofit organization dedicated to giving children from low-income families the opportunity to read and own their first new books. Since 1992, First Book has provided new books to children participating in community-based mentoring, tutoring, and family literacy programs. They’ve printed a special edition of That Book Woman, which will be sold to those places affiliated with First Book, guaranteeing that the books are only going to those children who are the very neediest—who would never have an opportunity to purchase a hardcover book, or even a traditional paperback edition of the book.
Don’t forget to check the First Book Podcast page, for an exclusive podcast about Heather and That Book Woman.
Recent news and profiles
- Profile in the Lexington Herald-Leader
- Video interview with Heather on the Simon & Schuster Web site
- An interview with Heather from Cynthia Leitich Smith’s wonderful Cynsations blog
- A nice profile of Heather from her hometown Danville Advocate.
- A picture of Heather and illustrator David Small signing books at the GLIBA appeared in Publishers Weekly in early October.
- Article from the State Journal (Frankfort, KY), featuring a picture of Heather (in Cat in the Hat chapeau) reading to children at the Kentucky Book Fair
Grumpy Grandpa reviews
Here’s How I See It—Here’s How It Is reviews
- Publishers Weekly review
- Kirkus Review review
- Booklist review
- kidliterate.com review
- teensreadtoo.com review
- Sarah Miller: Reading, Writing, Musing… review
- Jessamine County Public Library Book Club comments from students (these are fun!)
That Book Woman reviews
- New York Times review
- Chicago Tribune review
- Booklist review
- Kirkus Reviews review
- Horn Book review
- Ingram Library Services review
- School Library Journal review
- Little Lamb Books review
Angel Coming reviews
Making the Run reviews
Here are a couple of scanned articles. Clicking on the links will pop open a new window.
- Writing from her roots, a profile of Heather for a regional magazine.
- Another profile for the Louisville Courier-Journal.
Heather Henson, illus. by Ross MacDonald.
S&S/Atheneum, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4169-0811-1
The boy who narrates Henson’s (The Book Woman) story shudders at his grandfather’s gruff temper and false teeth, and draws rude caricatures of a cross-eyed, flushed bald man. “Mom gets mad, but it’s true,” he insists. “Grumpy Grandpa is always grumpy. And he’s scary, too.” The boy and his parents visit Grandpa’s farm, which is “really quiet” except for Grumpy Grandpa’s snoring or yelling. And, each day, Grumpy Grandpa and his dog “disappear” in an old-fashioned pickup truck: “You’d think the dog would need a break, but he sticks to Grumpy Grandpa like glue.” Although the narrative is told from the boy’s perspective, the illustrations reveal more to the story. After the grandfather overhears his grandson’s complaints, he takes the boy along to his getaway, his childhood fishing hole. MacDonald (Bye-bye, Crib) pictures a quaint and ruddy middle-American group, the women in skirts and the men in overalls (they even serve heaping plates of flapjacks). If the setting is anachronistic, the theme is perennial and wishful: misanthropes can forget “what it was like to be little” and moody relatives might be worth getting to know. Ages 4-8. (July)
Of all the entries in the new crop of picture books, Grumpy Grandpa is my kids’ hands-down favorite. A young boy dreads going to his Grandpa’s house for a two-week vacation, assuming that a terrible time awaits him. Little does he realize that Grandpa was once a boy himself!
Kindergarten-Grade 2—Some stories about kids and grandparents are all sweetness and light. Not this one. This boy’s grandpa yells at the newspaper. He yells at the TV. He even yells at his own dog. Visiting him for two weeks is a trial, at least until the two go fishing and an unanticipated dip in the pond shows that laughter can sometimes cure even the grouchiest relative. Remembering what young boys are like helps, too. MacDonald’s wonderful watercolors have his typical ’50s look, and include comic scenes such as false teeth left to bite anyone who might sit on a hassock and the boy innocently driving his toy trucks off the back of the couch right onto sleeping Grandpa’s head. The pictures are a great match for the text, where the modern elements sit comfortably alongside the old-fashioned ones. Children will enjoy the idea of old folks learning from young ones.—Lauralyn Persson, Wilmette Public Library, IL
Alternating Junebug’s fantasies (“Here’s how I see it: As a famous Broadway actress, there
are so many demands on my time”) with her more mundane reality (“Here’s how it
is: Office Duty”), Henson (Making the Run) creates a funny, bittersweet story filled with colorful
personalities and plenty of backstage detail and drama. Readers will empathize
with Junebug as she yearns for a place at center stage and for a happy ending
for her broken family.
first-person narrative set at a small-town summer-stock theater moves along
breezily even as it imparts some fascinating stage history. Henson’s work
possesses a gutsy authenticity.
June’s narration is heartfelt, and the many theatrical details provide a unique frame
for this gentle story about family and personal growth
I loved this book, and I think it’s mostly been missed. I am fairly sure it hasn’t been reviewed on any other blog, and I haven’t seen it talked about anywhere. It’s one of those quiet little books that often slips through the cracks — just the kind of book that an independent bookseller will take to heart and put out into the world. So I’m taking it to heart and putting it out into the world, and I hope some of you will pick it up. Read the rest here….
As one well experienced in summer stock theater, the author brings to life the familial workings of this intimate
band of characters. Junebug’s plight, emotions, and reactions make her a very real, easy heroine to connect with.
Also, I appreciate the way that the reader is introduced to select plays and theatrical concepts without being
inundated with boring details, and the material is presented in a way that makes it interesting and easily
understandable. Read the rest here….
That Book Woman reviews
Henson dramatizes the story of the “Pack Horse Librarians,” women hired by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s to take books to families in distant hamlets of the Appalachian Mountains, where there were “few schools and no libraries.” Small’s illustrations — in ink, watercolor and pastel chalk — unfold at times almost as in a graphic novel: succeeding panels show a “book woman” guiding her horse through “rain and fog and cold,” carrying new books for a boy named Cal and his sister Lark to read and swap for the old.
Henson tells the story of the horse-riding librarians of Depression-era Appalachia, as they affected one family. Cal doesn’t care that he can’t read as his sister can, until his admiration for the physical courage of the Book Woman
brings him to the reading table. Small’s illustrations catch the light and human beauty in this poor and isolated world.
Cal describes his way-up mountain home—”So high / we hardly sight a soul”—but that changes when the Book Woman, a traveling librarian, rides up to the house. The Book Woman is a boon for Cal’s sister, Lark, “the readenest child you ever did see,” but no use to Cal, who is not “born / to sit so stoney-still / a-starin’ at some chicken scratch.” However, he is impressed by the librarian, who rides in all weather; finally, he asks Lark to teach him to read. This tribute to the Pack Horse Librarians of Appalachia has a lyric, simple style that lends itself to reading aloud. Henson, a Kentucky native, creates a reliable narrator in Cal, whose journey to reading is simple and believable. There are a couple of stereotypes here (Mother is pregnant and barefoot), but overall, the mixed-media illustration (ink, watercolor, pastel) supports the text’s genial flow. Mountains and sky achieve a lofty spaciousness that makes the Book Woman’s ride even more impressive. An author’s note gives background on the WPA’s Pack Horse Librarian program.
—Janice Del Negro
Young Cal lives high in Kentucky’s Appalachian Mountains. Sister Lark keeps her nose in a book nearly from daybreak to dusky dark. Cal’s a mite suspicious—and more than a mite resentful—of this, as he spends most of his time helping Pap with chores. One day, he spies a sorrel mare clippity-clopping slowly up the mountain; the rider’s not a man neither, but a lady wearing britches! She carries a passel of books in her saddle packs; all the family (exceptin’ Cal) welcomes her warmly. Back she comes several times a year, no matter how bad the weather. This causes Cal to wonder why she’s so dedicated, and he asks Lark to help him learn to read. By the time the Pack Horse Librarian appears again, she’s made another convert. Small’s illustrations, combining ink, watercolor and chalk, add an appropriately eathy warmth, complementing the precise prose beautifully. Every line oozes character: The hound dog’s ears flop like nobody’s business, and Cal’s face in the foreground displays every emotion as he moves from scowling suspicion to wonder.
“Now what that lady brings / it’s sure no treasure, / not to me, / but books!” Cal, oldest boy in an Appalachian family (Small’s tender illustrations reveal four more children and still another on the way), can “help Pap / with the plowing / and…fetch the sheep / when they take a-wander” but sees no cause to sit “stoney-still / a-staring at some chicken scratch.” His sister Lark, however, is an avid reader, and their parents warmly welcome the librarian from the Pack Horse Library Project (funded by Roosevelt’s 1930s WPA). Riding her sorrel mare through Kentucky’s Appalachian Mountains, the “Book Woman” comes every two weeks, in all kinds of weather. It’s her courage in a blizzard that finally inspires Cal to ask Lark to teach him to read, which (plus Mama’s precious recipe for berry pie) is the perfect return for the librarian’s loyalty. Complementing Cal’s authentically childlike thoughts, Small’s deft, rough-edged lines and masterful watercolors convey even more than Henson’s carefully honed text: the hardscrabble life in these harsh, lovely hills, the family’s closeness and affection, Cal’s mixed emotions–most poignantly, in a marvelous composition where he watches the Book Woman ride off in the snow, his slim, angular back draped in a thin blanket, his face seen only as it’s reflected in the window. Here’s hoping Cal’s first book was as good as this one. j.r.l.
Cal is the oldest boy in his family, and is a great deal more help around their Kentucky farm than his sister Lark, who “would keep her nose a-twixt the pages of a book daybreak to dusky dark” if she could. Small’s one-and-a half page spread tells the whole story; Cal simmers with resentment as he leads the cow past the house and glares darkly at Lark, who sits on the front porch completely absorbed in a book. When a woman rides up one day on a mare, “wearing britches for all the world to see,” Cal is furious when his father offers the woman a poke of berries for one of the books she has lugged there in her bag. But the woman, it seems, has brought the books for free! Any book lover will warm to the way she wins Cal over with her bravery that winter, turning up on her rounds through even the snowiest night, passing her books through a crack in the door so as not to freeze the family inside. What is it about those parcels of chicken scratch that makes her so fiercely loyal? Throughout the long winter, Cal sits with his sister and begins to find out. Henson’s tale, told through the mouth of Cal, is both poetic and genuine, filled with the idiom of rural hill country. Small’s quiet, stunning scenes will knock you out, particularly the last two wordless spreads showing the two children reading on the porch as their younger brother leads the cow home with the sun setting behind the hills, and then the book lady riding down that hill in the dusk. For ages 5-9, or book lovers of all ages.–SJ
This one grew on me. Small won once already for his So You Want to Be President title, though that’s not why I include him here. Truth be told, I thought that So You Want was one of his weaker titles. The Gardener or The Money Tree were far better books to my eyes, but recently I haven’t seen him do much that I was too terribly interested in. That Book Woman plays the inevitable get-librarians-to-like-it-with-a-heroic-librarian card, but it also has the advantage of being based on the truth. What’s more, the story concentrates on two mountain kids, and not the faceless rider on the horse. Add in the simple human gestures of the characters, the breathtaking vistas, and the story itself (smart and not cloying, but heartfelt) and you’ve a real contender on your hands. Maybe. Note on the Cover: If any of you female librarians or booksellers are looking for a cool name for your blog, might I suggest “That Book Woman” as an excellent choice?
Oh my, this book is a real treasure. I happily stumbled upon it at the library, and picked it up, entranced by David Small’s lovely watercolor illustrations. And the title, That Book Woman, had me terribly curious. I brought it home and fell in love….
This book merits our attention on many levels. First of all, it gently emphasizes the importance of reading–and the joy that can be found in reading. Secondly, it displays the noble witness of these women, who suffered a lot for their country and for education. Thirdly, it illuminates an important character of our American culture and history. I think 5-8 year olds will be captivated by the story, and hopefully they will be inspired by the witness of “that book woman” just as they inspired Cal to learn to read. Read the rest of the review here.
Angel Coming reviews
PreSchool-Grade 2-Set in the Appalachian Mountains during the early 20th century, this pleasant story is told in a manner that will appeal to children. In the quiet narrative, a young girl awaits the arrival of a new sibling. The lyrical text reads like poetry: “Mama says an angel is coming, coming clear up the mountain, riding clear up Lonesome Creek, a tiny babe tucked in her saddlebag, a tiny babe tucked safe and warm.” Attractive, realistic acrylic paintings show the family’s preparations as Pap takes the handmade cradle out of storage and Mam washes tiny garments that once belonged to the narrator. Glimpses of life in the hills include a quilting bee with all of the aunties and storytelling by the fireplace. In the end, though she hoped for a sister, the girl readily accepts her little brother, declaring, “Can’t help but love him just the same.” An appended author’s note gives a brief history of Mary Breckinridge and the Frontier Nursing Service, describing the nurse-midwives who traveled into rugged terrain to serve families that otherwise went untended. It also explains that many young Kentuckians believed that babies arrived in the saddlebag of one of these “angel[s] on horseback.” An engaging piece of historical fiction.-Maryann H. Owen, Racine Public Library, WI
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* PreS-Gr. 2. Living in a rustic, mountainside house with her father and pregnant mother, a little girl awaits the arrival of an angel on horseback with “a tiny babe tucked in her saddlebag.” Time passes. The family gets out the old cradle, washes little clothes, and hosts a quilting bee. One morning, the girl climbs the mountain and returns to find a tall lady standing with her horse outside the cabin. Inside, Mama lies in bed, holding the new baby. The appended author’s note explains that beginning in 1925, the Frontier Nursing Service began training and sending nurses to remote cabins in the mountains to check on the families, treat their ailments, and occasionally, if the timing was right, help with the birth of a child. Children were sometimes told that the babies were brought by angels on horseback. From mentions of creek sounds, darting birds, and “old-time ways” to the gentle curves and soft colors of the landscape, both story and art evoke the beauty of the Appalachian setting. Gaber’s acrylic paintings portray the characters and their surroundings with finesse. Written in the first person from the girl’s point of view, the text is unrhymed, but its cadence has the grace of speech and the meter of song. A quiet, memorable picture book.
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Henson successfully captures both the beauty and banality of the rural Kentucky town where her first novel is set, but an excess of plot points muddle her story. Lu McClellan can’t wait to leave Rainey: Living in a small town is like living under a microscope. Every little thing magnified and studied. With two months to go before graduation and her 18th birthday, she bides the time by doing drugs, making the run (driving with her best friend, Ginny, around Dead Man curve to the next town, where alcohol is sold) and focusing on her passion for photography. When Jay, her much older brother’s friend, returns to Rainey, she develops an intense relationship with him, which distances her still further from her father (and causes tensions with her brother). Between the photography, Lu’s dysfunctional family (she saw her mother die years ago and dislikes her father’s new girlfriend), her drug use, her feelings for Jay, Ginny’s pregnancy and the foreboding road in and out of town, some story lines never get fleshed out (her reconciliation with her father, for example, seems hasty). But the world she inhabits will likely be seductive to teens, and the scenes of Lu partying with Ginny on a farm or watching Jay and her brother’s band play at dives feel authentic. The compelling narrative voice will keep readers rooting for her to make it out of her hometown and into the larger world. Ages 13-up.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Grade 10 Up-Almost 18 and about to graduate from her small-town Kentucky high school, Lu McClellan wastes her days and nights avoiding her father and using alcohol and drugs to numb the pain she still feels over her mother’s sudden death when she was a child. Her best friend and drinking partner, Ginny, has no trouble with liquor-store clerks in the next county, at the end of the winding road that local kids habitually travel at dangerously high speeds. Lu is a “camerahead,” always photographing the faces, postures, and scenes in which she finds herself, no matter how ubiquitous within her life. She and Ginny run in a crowd of kids with world outlooks that seem to stretch no further than attendance at the University of Kentucky after graduation. Lu’s decade-older brother, a musician, has his own friends but watches over his sister and isn’t pleased when his buddy Jay takes a romantic interest in her. Lu dreams of leaving town to go out west or maybe to New York. As their relationship becomes a sexual one, she thinks she can convince Jay to leave with her. Then Ginny dies in a car crash, forcing not only Lu, who feels she should have been with her friend, but also her father and Jay from the cocoons of selfishness each has built. Written in blunt and contemporarily savvy prose, this portrait of a girl on the brink of emerging from her past will have immediate appeal to many of her peers.
Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA
Gr. 9-12. Lucinda Larrimore McClellan, Crazy Lu, is restless. She has spent 18 years in small-town Rainey, Kentucky, engulfed by a mindset she’s long since outgrown. It might be easier if her mother were still alive and if her father had not emotionally collapsed after Mom’s death. But Lu has stopped hoping for resurrections. Her 35mm camera; her best friend, Ginny; a steady stream of drugs and alcohol; and a plan of escape are the only things that keep her going–that is until Jay Shepard comes back to town. Her brother Danny’s boyhood friend and more than a few years Lu’s senior, Jay becomes Lu’s secret lover, and for a few intensely erotic days she somehow feels connected and safe. A fiery car crash reminds her how fragile life can be. This vivid portrait, written in present tense from Lu’s perspective, takes a gritty, exceptionally honest look at an “alternative” teen without stooping to stereotypical characterizations or judgments. Not for every YA collection, but still an on-target novel that seems, in many respects, true-to-life. Kelly Halls
Copyright © American Library Association.
By her own admission, Heather Henson backed into the world of children’s books. She never meant to start a career editing them, and she certainly never meant to write one. But somehow, at the age of 35, she has ended up doing both.
Her first novel for teenagers, Making the Run (HarperCollins/Cotler, May), is the result of a long journey. Born in a small town in Kentucky, Henson moved to New York City to attend college at the New School. “I actually came to study filmmaking,” she says. “I’d always written, but didn’t think that’s what I’d do. But I had some great writing teachers in college, and ended up with a degree in creative writing.”
A series of temp jobs followed graduation, including one in the children’s division of HarperCollins. Henson discovered she liked working with artists and with texts, and found creating picture books somewhat similar to the storyboarding process in filmmaking. A permanent job in the division opened up; she was hired, rose in the ranks and became an editor.
Then came a crossroads. “At some point,” she recalls, “I had stopped writing. I loved working with writers and books, but I missed writing. I was at the point at which I might have been promoted, and I knew I’d have to dedicate my life to editing if that happened. But I just knew I wanted to write. Of course, my husband thought I was crazy at first!”
So she left Harper to go freelance, doing some editing and also her own writing. It was a productive time: she finished up her master’s in creative writing at City College, had a son and wrote what turned out to be Making the Run.
Her first and only submission of the book was to her former boss, Joanna Cotler. “When I finished it,” she recalls, “I thought it was something she’d like. I had worked for Joanna for several years, and we have the same aesthetic when it comes to books. I finished it the week before I gave birth to Daniel [now 2 years old]. Within a few weeks after giving birth, Joanna called and said, ‘I love it, I’ll take it.’ I was so happy, it was amazing.”
Since she was so familiar with the editorial process, Henson was a bit surprised to experience life on the other side of the fence. “I didn’t think it would surprise me at all,” she says. “But it was very difficult to send my book out, even though it was to Joanna. And then there was the waiting. I used to be so busy as an editor. I didn’t think about how long it took to get back to an author.”
The editing part came as less of a surprise. “There were not a huge amount of revisions, but Joanna definitely asked for some, and I agreed with her. Because I’ve been an editor, I felt, ‘Look, I know I need to be edited.’ I do think writers can fall in love with their own words.”
Lu, the heroine of Making the Run, is just finishing high school in Kentucky; she is poised on the brink of going out into the world, longing for new experiences but a bit afraid to leave as well. Henson says the book is “not totally autobiographical, but still there’s some truth in fiction. The hometown is very similar to my hometown. I really wanted to write about my own experience of growing up in a small town, of being 17 or 18, not an adult but almost one. I also wanted to write about that intense feeling of being in love for the first time, which is never quite the same again.”
All of Henson’s writing, she says, is set in Kentucky. She has written several short stories, and an (as yet unpublished) novel for adults, but admits the idea of writing for children hadn’t previously occurred to her. “And now I have so many ideas for middle-grade or YA novels that I don’t have time to write them all!”
Her current project is a middle-grade novel, “again a little autobiographical. It’s about a girl growing up in the theater [Henson's father runs a 52-year-old summer-stock theater in Danville, her hometown]. Place is very important to me, almost as important as the story. I’m so familiar with Kentucky and that culture.” Henson has also sold a picture book to Atheneum, “which will come out in something like 2005.”
Now that Making the Run has been published, and she can finally hold it in her hands, Henson says, “I love the way it looks. I’m so excited to have it published.” Reflecting on the serendipitous route in which she discovered the world of children’s books, left it, and then ended up writing a children’s book of her own, she says, “It’s like that line from The Godfather: just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”