Children’s Books of the Week: D.B. Johnson’s Henry books
Oh oh oh how we love these books. I got them initially with a vague notion of teaching Henry about Henry David Thoreau, and also because, well, they’re both named Henry. These books are genius. Really. Each story takes one tiny nugget of Thoreau’s life, but one that is emblematic of who he was, and expands on it, and then pairs it with these illustrations that are just so incredible I’m not sure I can even describe them. They’re kind of cubist (and Henry and his friends are bears, mostly), and the modern bent somehow completely works with the distinctly not-modern ideas and stories. All I know is I can’t think of any book that comes close to having this type of non-realistic illustration that is so successful in the story. The drawings have so much to look at and explore (the boys are always finding new animals that they hadn’t noticed before), and also leave so much to the imagination.
Plus, after all that, the stories are great. Each perfectly captures Thoreau’s ideals and life and the reactions of his peers. There’s also a page at the end of each which explains more about where the story came from. There’s a new book called Henry’s Night that we haven’t read yet. I don’t even think I have a favorite because they’re all so good in their own ways, so go to the library and get out whichever one they have.
(I will also say that D.B. Johnson is the illustrator of a book called Zuzu’s Wishing Cake which has nothing to do with Henry David Thoreau, but which we also like. But that if I find out he wrote a book called, I don’t know, Elias and the Diggers or something, I’m checking my house for hidden cameras.)