7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #336: Featuring Todd Harris

h1 June 23rd, 2013 by jules

“You see, Queen Apricotta (named after her mother’s favorite fruit) and King King (whose parents liked to keep things simple) were shunned by the very people whom they supposedly ruled. And Duncan’s teenage sisters—twins Marvis and Marvella—were no better off. Those two girls turned weirdness into an art form (dancing to imaginary music, walking pet crickets on leashes, constantly sniffing each other’s hair). Of course, Duncan was just as unpopular as the rest of his family, but he didn’t realize that, which is why, for the past several months, he’d turned down every one of their invitations to come visit the castle. But he couldn’t avoid his family forever.”


I’m doing something a bit different today in that I’m not featuring a picture book. Instead, I’ve got the interior art from two children’s novels that my daughters and I have been enjoying of late. And that’s putting it mildly. They’re pretty crazy about them, and I had the pleasure of reading the books outloud to them and enjoyed them a great deal, too.

I first read about The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy (who also writes here about “children’s pop culture from a grown-up perspective”), a book released in 2012 by Walden Pond Press, here at the Horn Book’s site. I thought it might be the kind of book my girls would like, and I wanted a good read-aloud. So, I found it at the library, and … well, we were done with it in days. It’s some mighty fine entertainment, this book.

The sequel, The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle (from which the art above comes), was released this past April, so we pre-ordered a copy from our favorite bookstore, and IF I HAD A DIME for every time the girls asked if the book was there yet … I tried to pace our reading of this second book, once it finally arrived, but a lot of good that did. It was equally entertaining, and we were done in no time flat.

The books contain cover and interior drawings from Todd Harris, who evidently works mostly in video game art and D&D. (I see he was interviewed here fairly recently and that we share a favorite character, whose name is Duncan.)

These books are about fairy tale princes and princesses, yes, but when it comes to the latter, if you’re expecting some passive princesses, idly standing by and batting their eyelashes at the men, think again. (Case in point: Princess Ella in action.)

Prince Liam, Prince Frederic (pictured below), Prince Duncan, and Prince Gustav are, respectively, the princes who saved Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White, and Rapunzel (also pictured below), but they’re suffering a bit of an identity crisis.

Prince Frederic dislikes dirt and dangerous things, including tigers (he has valid reasons, as you learn in the first book), but loves tea, dancing, good manners, witty wordplay, and picnics. Has been known to say: “It looks like she lost one of her glass slippers; would you be so kind as to have it sanitized?”

Rapunzel likes turnip soup, helping people, and solitude. Fixing people is her gift.

Lila is Prince Liam’s sister, and she loves reading, exploring, and inventing imp traps. She loathes ball gowns and etiquette lessons. Has been known to say: “I’m Lila. Pleasure to meet you. Oh, darn. I probably should have curtsied, right?”

Why the identity crises? Well, the bards in their kingdoms aren’t exactly stellar at their jobs and they are hardly keen on details (they always get the stories wrong in their laugh-outloud odes), and as a result, the princes are all known as simply “Prince Charming.” Here’s one of the lousy bards — from the first book, I believe. (Sadly, I don’t have a copy of that one on hand now.)

In the first book, each prince is shunned in one way or another by his princess and cast out of his castle. They set out to save their kingdoms after an evil plot involving Zaubera (the witch from Rapunzel’s story) is revealed, but it’s clear they’re also out to save their names and restore their pride.

In the second book, the gang reunites, given that the petulant Briar Rose has kidnapped Prince Liam, not to mention she has her sights squarely set on the Sword of Erinthia, which was stolen by power-hungry 11-year-old bandit Deeb Rauber (one of the series’ funniest, most obnoxious characters).

“‘Nice pocket knife,’ Lila mocked. ‘I suppose they only let the big boys play with real swords.’ ‘It’s not a sword; it’s a dagger,’ Rauber whined. ‘And I’m pretty sure you know that. You’re just trying to make me angry.'”

And here’s the thing: These books work so well, because Healy is such a clever, quick-witted writer, who likes to surprise you, but the books at their center have a big ol’ throbbing heart. You’ll see reviewers refer to the books as action-packed and slapstick and hilarious and such, which they are, but it’s the book’s heart and characters (who seem to be growing in complexity in the second book) that grab you.

But, don’t get me wrong, the humor is delicious, too. There’s a horse named Papa Scoots Jr.; trolls who refer to the ineffective bards (with names like Pennyfeather the Mellifluous) as “Itty-Bitty-Guitar Men”; unconscious clowns; a very funny messenger, named Smimf; a Jeopardous Jade Djinn Gem; a Prince Charming (but which one?) who has an irrational hatred of capes; dwarves, who care passionately about proper grammar; a Gray Phantom; heroes with no sense of direction on exciting stealth missions; and much, much more. Author Frank Cottrell Boyce has evidently written about these books, “This is the most fun you can have short of rounding up King Arthur’s knights, filling their armor with laughing gas, and driving them to a roller disco.”

That about covers it.

Here’s a bit more art from Todd.

“As the sound of thundering drums filled the courtyard, Briar Rose rode out of the palace on a unicorn. She wore a sparkling, diamond-studded bridal gown with a train so long that she was halfway down the aisle before the end of it finally emerged from the palace. An elaborate headdress—which included several live, tweeting tropical birds—was entwined around her swaying pillar of hair. Her fingers were covered with so many jeweled rings that it was impossible to bend a knuckle.
The unicorn also wore a gown.”

“‘Hi, sis,’ Briar smirked. ‘Don’t call me that,’ Lila sneered. ‘Nobody but Liam gets to call me that.’ Briar knit her brow. ‘You’d better watch yourself, brat. I know you tripped me on purpose at the wedding. The only reason I didn’t throw you in jail with the others is because you and I are family now.'”

“Speaking solely in terms of dancing, Liam and Briar made a very nice couple.
With great poise and flawless stepping, the pair weaved their way
through the other dancers.”

All art is copyright © 2012 and 2013 by Todd Harris. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Walden Pond Press, an imprint of HarperCollins, New York.

* * * * * * *

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

1) The ALA annual conference is this week in Chicago! It’ll be my first ALA conference.

2) I’m especially excited about this preconference event.

3) I think great read-alouds like the Hero’s Guide books are kicky.

4) I’ve always been a Letterman fan. You gotta love that car, too.

5) This week, I got to meet author/illustrator Sergio Ruzzier and his lovely girlfriend, who were in the Nashville neck of the woods. That should be kick #1. I wish I’d thought to get my camera out. I’m bad about that.

6) Seeing some Fall 2013 picture book F&Gs.

7) This Anne Sexton poem from The Writer’s Almanac yesterday.

What are YOUR kicks this week?

16 comments to “7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #336: Featuring Todd Harris”

  1. Oh my, these books sound absolutely awesome. I will definitely be getting copies for me and more to share.

    Hi Jules – hope class is going well, I love hearing about books you and your girls devour.

    I’m early – or is it late – because of a couple of big kicks this evening:

    1) Wonderful dinner with a good friend who took me out for my birthday. Great food and even better company.
    2) After dinner we went to see Joss Whedon’s version of Much Ado About Nothing. Swoon. I love that play, and love Joss Whedon, and man, Nathan Fillion can always be counted on to bring the cheese.
    3) Last week I was in Sunriver for both work and play – total joy in a beautiful environment.
    4) Turns out Cole has arthritis – its a kick because its better than a blown knee. Part of vet’s prescription is to take him swimming more, which I am happy to oblige, took him to the river today and threw the tennis ball for him til he finally decided he was tired.
    5) Bought tickets for Lyle Lovett concert at the zoo in August.
    6) Got tickets to see Rebirth Brass Band next Sunday.
    7) My friends are awesome. I have always known this, but sometimes its nice to remember it, and they’ve been particularly good to me lately – I’m damn lucky.

    Have a wonderful Sunday and wonderful week Imps!

  2. What lovely illustrations, and the story sounds great too.

    Enjoy the ALA, Jules! What a treat, especially that pre-conference.

    Rachel, birthday dinner with good food, company and movie sounds perfect. Glad to hear that Cole’s knee wasn’t blown! I love seeing dogs happily swimming around. I must remember to try to catch Much Ado About Nothing – out here in a month or so I think.

    A bit of a baby-dominated list this week from me…

    1. My sisters threw a baby shower last weekend. Instead of games we decorated clothes for the baby – my brilliant contribution to the day was buying cute fabric and iron on transfer paper for those of us who can’t actually sew, and providing cookie cutters and downloaded stencils for those of us who can’t draw. It was all great fun.
    2. Rhubarb compote just cooked on the stove
    3. And a surplus of strawberries in the fridge (accidental double purchasing within the family) means that I will get to try out either a strawberry frozen yoghurt or strawberry cake recipe I’ve been eyeing off
    4. A baby car seat bought and installed in the car. It doesn’t really need to be in there yet but it still feels good to have it done (plus it looks cute for some reason)
    5. And the clothes that people have passed on to us are sorted into sizes in the new dresser drawers. There is still random piles of stuff around the house, but having clothes in drawers feels organised (and is definitely cute)
    6. I still love waking up and seeing the freshly painted walls in our bedroom
    7. An evening playing with my nieces – imaginative conversations with the eldest and babbling and smiling with the baby

  3. We love, love, love Hero’s Guide around here. My daughter and her cousins had been asking for the second book since Christmas. They love to recite the cheesecake scene from the first book and dinner conversation often revolves around not only who our favorite characters are, but which character all our family members are most like. I am so excited to hear about another family reading the books out loud and loving them as much as we do!

  4. Those illustrations are AWESOME. Please remind me to check that book out.

    This is a fly-by post on the way!

    1) Closing shows today 🙁
    2) Recording (singing)
    3) Recording (filming)
    4) Laughter
    5) Good songs on repeat
    6) Books by Christopher Golden, always
    7) Writing

  5. Good Morning Imps!
    These books look fantastic. These might even be good for the girl and the boy. It’s not easy getting consensus around here. Todd’s images are so fun.
    Jules- I love all of your kicks, especially #2, so jealous.
    Rachel- I’m thinking about going to see Lyle this summer as well.
    emmaco- Love hearing about your nesting, so exciting.
    1. Got most of my postcards in the mail.
    2. I am writing this from my porch on my magic phone.
    3. I had to sort out something at the school and managed to keep my mama-bear under control.
    4. I have almost all of the pieces of the Summer day care/camp put together.
    5. I gave in and started reading Game of Thrones.
    6. We’re playing catch-up by watching Season 2 of Breaking Bad.
    7. S U M M E R !
    Happy Solstice all!

  6. Hi Alikate and L.W.!

  7. I love, love, love these books. I have already loaned out the second before I even read it myself. I laughed out loud reading the first. Thank you for featuring the artwork. He pictures the characters as you imagine them.

    Jules: Have a great time at the pre-conference event. It looks wonderful.
    Rachel: So glad you had an enjoyable dinner with friends for your birthday.
    Emmaco: Being an aunt is one of life’s best pleasures
    Little Willow: Laughter is the greatest thing especially with children

    My kicks:
    1. I’m going to ALA for the first time too. I can hardly wait.
    2. The peonies are in bloom.
    3. Swallowtail butterflies flitting about on all the flowers.
    4. Warmer weather
    5. Full super moon
    6, Books in the mail
    7. Strolls with Xena

  8. Moira: My postcard arrived and it’s delightful.
    Happy summer to you.

  9. Me thinks I have to these on the list to buy. What fun illustrations.
    Jules: so wish I was going to ALA! Have fun.
    Rachel, belated bday wishes, love Sunriver and the zoo!
    Emmaco: oh yum for rhubarb!
    Hi Ailikate.
    LW, good songs and laughter, great. Combo.
    Moira, I am finishing Breaking Bad, season 3.
    Margie, wish I was at ALA. enjoy!
    My kicks:
    1. School out.
    2. Breakfast w/ friends.
    3. Strawberries.
    4. Summer solstice.
    5. Reading.
    6. Breaking Bad, Season 3
    7. Connecting with friends.
    Have a great week.

  10. Rachel, we *almost* saw Whedon’s Much Ado last night, which I really want to see, but it was better for our schedule/childcare to see This Is the End instead. …Hope Cole feels better soon. Lyle Lovett!

    Emmaco, SO SOON NOW and that baby will be here. Very exciting! Do tell us if you make strawberry cake. Do you mean strawberry shortcake or something else? Mmm, either way.

    Alikate (is that your name, or just a blogger handle of some sort?), glad you love the books, too. Our favorite of all is how Duncan yells out the names of animals when he sees them. I bet Little Willow would love that, too.

    Little Willow, hope the shows went well today!

    Moira: Isn’t the final half of Breaking Bad supposed to start soon? Ooh, it’s gonna be good, I bet. … I’m glad your Mama Bear is healthy, even if she didn’t have to FULLY show her claws. Thanks for my postcard!

    Margie: I GOTTA see you at ALA. I’ll email you.

    Jone: Happy Summer, officially! Big plans?

  11. Hi All!
    Great art – can’t wait to order the books through the library. Thanks for sharing these today.
    Awesome kicks Jules. The ALA event looks fantastic. I LOVED the David Letterman/Jerry Seinfeld video – that was really fun. And the poem!!

    Everyone else’s kicks are great too. Lots of joy, lots of strawberries, great news about coming babies. I enjoyed reading them all.

    My Kicks:
    1. Amazing weekend gospel workshop with my choir this weekend culminating in concert today.
    2. Seeing my friend Kristin, who lives in AZ now. I miss her.
    3. Watching her daughter, who is now 14, playing the same silly way with my Little who is now 7, that they played when he was 1, 2, 3, and she was 8, 9, 10.
    4. Elisa Kleven, always gracious, wrote to thank me for my review of her latest review, Glasswings. (There is also a grateful shout out to you, Jules, and a link to your piece about her this spring. Not that anyone needs to read it – just an expression of appreciation for this wonderful blog and that piece that got me to buy ‘Glasswings’.)
    5. 4 month old Tiny now sleeps from 7 or 8pm to 3 or so am – we are getting more sleep too.
    6. super fun, HUGE neighborhood yard sale on Saturday.

    That is it for now – I wish everyone a great week.

    Oh, and no news on big court date for our Tiny this past week. They never tell us anything right away, but we see our social worker tomorrow, so hopefully we’ll know something soon.

  12. Good morning, Jules and others!

    I’ve been trying to make time to read yours and a couple other favorite blogs this summer, but it hasn’t been easy. My first kick is…

    1. Taking the time to read your blog today!
    2. Time to read aloud with my daughter this summer. She wakes up an hour or two before the rest of my kids, and we’ve been having fun reading together.
    3. Time with my kids in general this summer.
    4. PRs at age 37.
    5. A great husband. (Our 12th anniversary was yesterday.)
    6. Coffee and blogging in the mornings. (I’m on break from graduate school this summer.)
    7. A warm, sunny forecast for today!

    Rachel, do you live in New Orleans? I used to and used to get to see the Rebirth Brass Band…as well as lot of other fantastic music.

    I will sadly miss the ALA meeting this coming week. (I have a family wedding.) Hard to miss it. Have fun and have a wonderful week in general everyone!

  13. Allison: Hope you get news very soon. Hello to Elisa!

    Amy, I understand busy. And busy summers. When everyone else is gearing back up for work in the Fall, my life will finally slow down again. Yours, too, I hope. … Happy anniversary! What are “PRs”? Am I being dense? This is a distinct possibility. Hear! hear! to reading aloud with the children!

  14. Everybody have a terrific time at ALA! It’s crazy and invigorating. And three hundred cheers for read-alouds–I’m always looking for one to recommend to parents at the library, and ta da!

  15. Thanks, Tricia!

  16. I picked up the sequel at ALA Midwinter (Seattle 🙂 based on cover alone and then bought the first book to deliver as a set for a friend’s daughter the weekend of ALA Chicago. I am now seeing this post and I’m so thrilled I paired them (now I have to buy another set for me!). Takes me a while to get caught up, but eventually…….So this observation may be one made previously, but looking at Todd Harris’s work (which is fabulous – love it) makes me think of Disney/Pixar movies and I realize another Walden Pond Press book prompted the same reaction: Barry Wolverton’s “Neversink.” Love the illustrations in Barry’s book as well. Interesting…..

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