Having helped to create well over 100 books, you would think Henry Cole has been illustrating and authoring books his entire working career. That would be false. Known for books such as Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad (Scholastic Press, 2012), A Nest for Celeste (Katherine Tegen Books, 2010), and Spot, the Cat (Little Simon, 2016), Cole has built an impressive body of work in just over a 20-year time span.
Though he grew up on a dairy farm, studied forestry in college, and spent his young adult years as an educator, it was practically inevitable that he would end up in the literary arts. “I have drawn and sketched since very early childhood. My mother was a fashion illustrator in New York City, then a dairy farm wife/mother, then an elementary librarian. So books and art have been in my life for a long time.”
“I miss the classroom … some of my best friends are ex-colleagues or ex-parents of kids I taught. It’s one of those fields that you don’t ‘get it’ unless you ‘do it.’ There is nothing like working with kids.”
“If you are waiting for my signature style to emerge, don’t hold your breath. I see books by the same illustrator that ALWAYS LOOK THE SAME … no matter the content! Crazy! I call that being in a rut. I like changing things up, making things interesting.”
“Sammy is a perfect length with great character and situational development, and LOTS of illustrations … just exactly right for kids beginning to pick up longer chapter books and diving in.”
“I think kids get enough dumbing down all the time. I see so many books that could have been written by … dummies! And how will that ever lead to an increase in a kid’s vocabulary? I remember the word ‘stalwart’ in a Walt Disney comic (in the early ’60s). How often do you get words like that these days? I was 8!”
One of Cole’s most recent projects to be published is The Somewhat True Adventures of Sammy Shine (Peachtree Publishers, Ltd., 2016) about a mouse that goes on an airplane adventure. It was inspired by his own childhood experiences and pet mouse.“There is lots of autobiography in Sammy. I am Hank (I have one great friend who calls me Hank), and Jimmy is my brother Jimmy who built a model plane painted dark green in his cellar ‘laboratory.’ As a kid I had a pet mouse named Sammy Shine … such a great mouse, makes such a great character. You can imagine mice ‘doing’ things [like] weaving baskets, at the control of an airplane, sipping a tiny cup of tea. It’s easy to picture their little paws manipulating, building, doing human things. Plus their size is good. Other animals … not so much. They can fit places. Imagine a deer at the controls of an airplane. Disaster! That plane is coming down!”
Though readers may see Sammy Shine again, for now Cole continues to work on other new projects that he is keeping under wraps. “No details … A very wise person told me years and years ago: The more you talk about a project, the more you’re letting your creative steam out of the bag. I focus my energy and thought into thinking and working on a project rather than talking about it.”