Henry is the reason I'm here.
Online. Writing a post on my own author website. Basking in the warmth, wonder and wisdom of this wonderful kidlit community which I'm blessed to have recently joined. Henry was the inspiration for it all.
But he's not a child, or a favorite teacher, or a fictional character from some beloved book that shaped my childhood.
Henry was a hedgehog.
I say "was" because—spoiler alert—he died over a year ago. He lived with us for almost four years, a good old age for hedgehogs. My wife and I wanted a pet after we got married, but we didn't think we had sufficient space for a dog or cat. (Mind you, we're still in the same apartment, but now with two kids. Turns out space is what you make of it!) So we opted for a hedgehog because:
Easily one of the best decisions we ever made. Henry joined our family and stole our hearts, and I developed a penchant for showing pictures of him to everybody I knew. One day at work, a colleague approached me and suggested that Henry could star in his own picture book. She should know—she illustrates children's books on the side!
Her words got me thinking. I write for young students every day at my job, but the idea of writing children's books never once crossed my mind. And yet, the timing was right for a creative epiphany. Children's literature had recently stormed back into my life, thanks to a precocious toddler at home who loves being read to.
Toddler. Illustrator. Hedgehog. A perfect storm of inspiration.
So I decided to give it a try. That very week, I wrote my first picture book manuscript, starring Henry. The illustrator even worked up some sketches. That story never progressed further, but it reignited my passion for children's books and set me on the path to where I am now.
Everything that followed that initial spark—dozens of manuscripts; countless queries; signing with a dream agent; having my work considered by editors and publishers I adore and admire—can be traced back to our spiky friend.
So thank you, Henry. I hope to see you again someday, perhaps in the pages of a book that will inspire more than just its author.