Interview with writer Skye Byrne and illustrator Nic George
The story of The Power of Henry’s Imagination definitely came from my own experiences. I seem to be someone who loses things kind of easily. As an adult, I have lost some of the most precious things one can lose – my wallet, my journal, my dog. Each time I would visualize that I had them back, believe I would get them back, and they always returned to me (through some truly incredible sequences of events). But as a child I didn’t know to visualize when I lost a favorite toy, and I wish I had known, because I was always misplacing them!
In creating the artwork for The Power of Henry’s Imagination, I referenced many of my own memories of ‘place’ from my childhood. Most notably, the tree where we find Henry and Raspberry settled on the front cover, in the opening of the book, as well as when Henry “begins to use his imagination.” My childhood home had a tree just like it, where my brother and I nailed planks of wood to form a ladder to get to a comfortable branch; perfect for imagining. Now that I think about it, I believe the character design for Raspberry the rabbit may have been subconsciously influenced by the hare-like features of a childhood favorite, Bugs Bunny.
Like Henry, I was given a very special friend the day I was born. Mine was not a rabbit, but a sheepskin blanket that I called Sheppy. Just like Henry does with Raspberry, I took Sheppy absolutely everywhere with me, and I was always misplacing him. When I was without him I was miserable, and couldn’t think of anything else until I found him. I still carry small, subtle pieces of Sheppy around with me to this day – and I’m 32 years old!
My favorite stuffed animal friend as a child was a monkey named Bozo. I don’t remember giving Bozo his name, but I remember his character to be very amenable; he was always where I left him.
Working with Nic on this book was like working with myself; we almost always see everything the same way. I actually can’t think of a single contentious moment. We are best friends who have known each other all our lives and experienced some really big things together, like moving to another country, and now, creating a book together! I think we’re an amazing team.
I can’t speak highly enough about Skye as a person. We are best friends. We’re generally always thinking or feeling the same thing with regard to creative decisions, and when we aren’t, there is a great deal of trust that can be called upon, because of the long friendship we’ve had. Though we focus on different skill sets (Skye writes and I make pictures), we are able to interpret each other’s work with appreciation as well as a critical mind. I think we have a genuine desire to hear each other’s feedback, and there’s no greater complement than your collaborator’s approval of your work!
I have wanted to write since I learned how to write, and learned that writing was something one could do. I always thought I would end up writing novels for adults, and yet it doesn’t at all surprise me that I’ve ended up writing for children; I still feel like a child, and childhood remains for me the most beautiful time of a person’s life.
I think I have always wanted to draw and create for people. Considering children as a particular audience became an interest, surprisingly, when I was 20 years of age. I think this had to do with my connection with Skye, and our remembrance of knowing each other in childhood. It was fascinating to reflect on childhood experiences as grown-ups (with Skye). There is a profound intelligence expressed in children, amidst all the strangeness of ‘growing up,’ that is very interesting to me. I like the challenge of creating in a way that hopefully appeals to both children and adults alike.
When I learned how to write at age 7, I couldn’t stop writing. My teacher at the time, Mrs Dyte, would bind every single story I wrote into a little book and write encouraging comments in the back of each one. I had dozens and dozens of them by the end of that year. I always remember Mrs Dyte as the first person who saw me as a writer and helped me to believe I could be one.
My Mum just recently sent me a photo of a book I wrote as a young child. The first page read: “Once there was a dinosaur. It was called Tyrannosaurus Rex.” I also remember writing a book called “The Three Bears in Space,” a reworking of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. After writing it, I employed my Dad to illustrate it. My Father was a naturally very gifted artist. I watched him draw each of the pictures with amazement and wonder, after explaining what should be drawn on each page. I’ve been making up stories and telling them in some form—writing, drawing, or acting—since I’ve known how.
I spent most of my childhood first being read to, and later reading myself. I think books formed and influenced my world and the way I saw the world more than anything else, and there were so many favorites. A very few of them were: Night Noises by Mem Fox, Animalia and The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base, I’ll Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm, Martha B. Rabbit by Shirley Barber, Where the Forest Meets the Sea by Jeannie Baker, Once There Were Giants by Martin Waddell, The Long Red Scarf by Nette Hilton, Good Dog Carl by Alexandra Day, The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg, and everything by Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl.
Books I grew up with include: The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter, all of the Dr. Seuss books, Animalia, The Eleventh Hour, and The Sign of The Seahorse by Graeme Base; and Possum Magic by Mem Fox and Julie Vivas.
My favorites were: Hubert’s Hair Raising Adventure by Bill Peet, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, Where the Forest Meets the Sea by Jeannie Baker, everything by Roald Dahl with illustrations by Quentin Blake, The Rainbow Serpent by Dick Roughsey, and my all time favorites by Maurice Sendak, Where The Wild Things Are, and In the Night Kitchen. Sendak’s imagination certainly influenced mine when making The Power of Henry’s Imagination. There’s a nod to Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen with the Henry and Raspberry “count all the stars in the universe,” scene in the book.
I felt very fortunate to use a combination of photography and drawing for this book. I gained a lot of confidence to begin this project when our Creative Director, Dan Potash, commented on my photographic work creating a ‘strong sense of place.’ I really drew upon this idea of creating ‘place,’ with the addition of real objects for the compositions in the book. I really like the play between the reality of the objects and the concept of imagination. This may be a little introspective, but for me, I feel it asks the reader to engage with their own imaginative mind; to consider how we perceive the function and nature of ‘things.’ Salt crystals crafted into the shape of a mountain and cave, reads as a glacial, snow capped environment, and yet the reality is, it’s just salt on some kraft paper with a little ink drawing of a boy and a rabbit cooking beans! I also like the emotional quality created by some of the placement of objects. The ribbon, in the “bedroom upside down” spread, gave this great lyrical expression, almost becoming an empathetic character within the story, attempting in its ribbony way to comfort Henry, as he “starts to feel worried.” I hope that some of these subtleties are enjoyed by readers.
My favorite part of the book is at the very end, when Henry is smiling in his sleep and Grandpa has come into the bedroom and tucked Raspberry into bed with him. I can just imagine the joy Henry will feel when he wakes up to find his friend in his arms.
I love the part of the book where Henry begins to imagine. I love the anticipation created with the words, “And so Henry began to imagine…”. I can really feel how parents, on their second reading of the book, will add a little performance to the delivery of these words, knowing the excitement coming on the following pages. I also love the quality of light and visual simplicity in this very important moment; it’s kind of a moment of contemplation or meditation. This scene takes place in the middle of the story, as well as in the middle of the physical book. It is the bridge between the established ‘real world’ and the ‘interior world’ of Henry’s imagination.
Absolutely we do. Nic and I have found something that we really, really love to do, and we hope to keep making children’s books for a long time to come.
I can’t wait to work on another book with Skye, and I hope we make many great books together as long as we both can. Doing this work came very naturally to both of us, and it feels right to follow this, especially if children and grown-ups respond well to it.
Looking at it from a “Secret” perspective, The Power of Henry’s Imagination is about visualization, one of the key concepts and practices of law of attraction. After losing Raspberry, Henry visualizes himself with his lost toy, which changes his whole emotional state and clears the path for Raspberry to return to him. It’s not magic (the mailman simply finds Raspberry lying on the foot path and returns him to Grandpa), but it sure feels like magic when it happens to you. It’s a very powerful experience to realize that your mind is interacting with the world and influencing what happens.
I think it is very easy, as adults, to forget about the human mind’s amazing faculty to imagine. We often associate this state of being with mere daydreaming, or indulgence in fantasy. But really concentrated imagination can be one of the most enriching experiences an individual can have. Deliberate use of imagination can create incredible things in the world. I like that this book looks at the concept of the creative thinking and human imagination, but it also demonstrates that sometimes ‘letting go,’ trusting, and believing that you have everything you need in the moment, can shift your emotional state to a better place. Feeling good and feeling comfort in the world is something we should all have access too.