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December 23, 2019

Adult author Henry’s first children’s book, Watch Her Shine, about a Ugandan princess who must defend her kingdom when her father falls ill, weaves the magical with female empowerment

Your previous books have been for adults. Why the switch to children?

I have three 20-somethings, but since their infancy I have been saying good night to them at bedtime by making up stories myself. I decided to go back after an ankle break last year and soothe myself by rereading one of those stories, Watch Her Shine. It was a lot of fun and was picked up in Uganda and then Australia. So far.

Where did the idea for this book come from?

I have two daughters and one son. The original idea came from a thought I used to share with them: "Real princesses do not kiss frogs." The story line has since changed dramatically, as all my story lines do, especially for the African and Australian markets. Horses, for example, became forest hogs and mountain gorillas in a chase scene. It’s very interesting, too, working with editors and illustrators in different countries. A new perspective is always welcome and I love to travel. #Oneworld is often my hashtag.

What kind of research did you do to ensure cultural authenticity?

I spent three weeks in Uganda working and playing with my Ugandan publisher and his family. Watch Her Shine takes place in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, so, with a still-healing ankle, I climbed six hours up and two hours down to spend time with the Busingye family, a group of five mountain gorillas. It was an exhilarating and once-in-a-lifetime joyous experience. The publisher also took me all over the city of Kampala, my home base in Uganda, and then on a safari and a boat ride on the Nile. On that trip, I slept in a room directly overlooking the Nile and a large group of hippos—another memorable adventure, what with the President of Uganda staying in the next suite of rooms! All my writing requires a trip to the region where the books take place. Research and authenticity are top priorities for me.

What encouragement would you give a reluctant reader?

Tips for supporting a reluctant reader? Start young. Be a mentor. Show enthusiasm. Perhaps have a parent start the first line of a story and have their child create the next line. Listen to audiobooks in the car. Take children to see plays and films based on novels and nonfiction. Share stories with your children about famous writers who started off rarely reading but became avid readers over time. Make reading fun. Reading a book after dinner, a bath, all cozy, translates into love. Take children to story hour at the local library. It's free, and I've never seen a bored child at the library.

Are you planning to continue writing children’s books, or will your next work be for adults?

Recently, I completed a screenplay based on my debut novel, The Whipping Club, and am putting final polish on a second novel as well as beginning a third. That said, I have zillions of half-written children's stories. I let my imagination lead. Hopefully, the next projects will lead to more travel, too!