A Mouse (and a Famous Author) in the House

There may be nothing that a big brother loves more than having a little brother to tease, torment, or—in the case of author and illustrator Henry Cole’s brother Jimmy—talk into taking part in wild experiments.

Henry had a beloved pet mouse that he named Sammy and kept in a can (a nicer residence than it sounds). Jimmy talked Henry into letting him send the docile Sammy up in a hot air balloon he designed and built. Henry went along with it, never imagining that the crazy craft would actually sail too far away to retrieve. Sammy disappeared from Henry’s life … but not from his imagination.

Sammy’s real-life ride was the jumping-off point for Henry’s latest children’s book, The Somewhat True Adventures of Sammy Shine (Peachtree Publishers, April 2016). It was also at the heart of a recent presentation Henry made at a Lower School assembly for Library Week.

Students knew about Henry’s work thanks to librarian Angela Smith, who arranged his visit, and the Lower School Parents Association, which presented each classroom with a copy of his wordless book, Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad. What they didn’t know until the assembly was that Henry can tell a great story as well as he can write or draw one.

Calling on a variety of voices, theatrical gestures, and genuine knowledge of what tickles a young child’s fancy, Henry told of his childhood playing in the woods on his family’s farm in Virginia, where he was enchanted by every bit of flora and fauna he encountered. He acted out his many other actual adventures with Jimmy and Sammy and worked his illustrator’s magic to draw a giant portrait of his anthropomorphized mouse friend in under 90 seconds.

Henry also used his acting skills and wit to teach students about the groundbreaking work of his idol, American ornithologist, naturalist, and painter John James Audubon, and about the process of writing and editing a book (and then editing it again—and again, and again, and again!—before it is accepted for publication). He wove into his stories messages about patience and perseverance and about not getting discouraged or giving up when tasks or assignments get difficult, all while keeping the students laughing.

Henry has written and/or contributed his evocative illustrations to more than 120 children’s books. For more about him, visit www.henrycole.net.

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