I had been hearing more and more great things about Christopher Healy’s middle grade Hero’s Guide series, so I asked for copies of the books from the publisher. My eleven-year-old son, James, gobbled them up in a few days, and then wrote this review of the books:
The Hero’s Guide books are about four princes that are completely different from each other but must work out their differences when faced with challenges that none of them can accomplish on their own. The heroes’ strengths complement each other: Frederick is the talker and the one who can dazzle the enemy with words, Duncan is the oddball who is good at distractions and coming up with strange solutions that no-one thinks will work but often do, Gustav is the big and burly one who does not like to work as a team and loves punching people with his big muscly arms, and Liam is the well-loved strategist and daring sword-fighter; he tries to escape his vengeful princess who hates him for not marrying her and sends her bounty hunter, Ruffin the Blue, after him. The books are exciting, enchanting, and creative. They have become some of my favorite books ever. I would recommend them to anyone who likes fantasy novels, Disney, or just a good story.
QUESTIONS FROM JAMES: (11 years old)
How did you come up with the idea for this series?
I wanted to write a book about Prince Charming. Here we have this guy who shows up at the end of so many fairy tales—and whom all the girls in the stories instantly want to marry—but whom we know close to nothing about. I wanted to make Prince Charming a real person, with both assets and flaws (though maybe I went a little overboard on the flaw). I struggled for a while trying to decide which Prince Charming to write about, but I couldn’t choose—so I went with four of them.
How did you come up with the names for the princes?
Most of the characters names in the books have some kind of hidden meaning. In a few cases, I used baby-naming websites to look up the ancient meanings of names and then chose ones that fit the characters (Liam = “protector,” Frederic = “peaceful ruler”). With the other two princes, there are sort of hidden subliminal messages in the spelling. The word “gust” begins Gustav’s name, and he’s the kind of guy who blows into a room like a tornado and wrecks everything in his path. The beginning of Duncan’s name almost spells “dunce.” I know you only asked about the princes, but I’ll also mention that many of the other characters have names that sound like words in other languages, mostly German. For instance, “riese” (Reese) is German for “giant,” and “dieb rauber” (Deeb Rauber) translates to “thief robber.”
Which prince is your favorite and why?
This is such a tough question for me to answer, because after years of working with these guys, I feel like they’re my children. I will say, though, that Frederic is the prince to whom I relate the most. I too would love to have all sorts of daring, thrilling adventures, but I generally don’t—because I am either too afraid or too sensible, just like Frederic.
Which villain is your favorite and why?
Deeb Rauber, the Bandit King. I love writing this character. He is wicked and devious and despicable and cunning, but he’s still a child and can never completely stop acting like one. In my mind, he’s what would have happened if Bart Simpson were smart.
Are you going to write any more books in the series?
Three is the magic number. For now, at least. With this trilogy wrapped up, I’m moving on to other projects, but I love the world of Hero’s Guide and its characters, so I’d love to go back there again someday. There are tons of stories there waiting to be told.
What other books do you want to write?
My next novel is called The Worst Thing About Saving the World and it should be out next year. It’s about a normal, average kid who finds out he is the special Chosen Child whom an ancient prophecy says is destined to save the world. Then the earth gets invaded by creatures from another dimension and the kid saves the world, just like the prophecy says. But all of that happens before the book even starts. The book is about what happens to him afterwards. It’s hard to be a normal eighth grader once you’ve saved the world.
What got you into writing?
Reading. I’ve been an avid reader since I was very young. I love books. And just like a music-lover who wants to be in a band or an art-lover who wants to paint, I wanted to create stories of my own that could live alongside all the other people’s stories that I love so much.
QUESTIONS FROM PRISCILLA:
What are some of your favorite books for children? What books do your two children especially like?
A.A. Milne’s original Winnie-the-Pooh books will always be up there for me. Milne was such a genius with wordplay and those Pooh books are still some of the funniest bits of writing ever put to paper. My daughter, who is 12, reads constantly—several books a week. She recommends the Ever Afters series by Shelby Bach and anything by Diane Zahler. My son, who is 7, adores Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
What advice would you give an aspiring children’s book author?
When writing for kids, the worst thing you can do is to talk down to them. But you can’t just treat them like adult readers either. Children’s book authors need to be time travelers in a sense. They need to leap back into their preadolescent selves in order to properly judge their own work. Would 12-year-old me be game for this plot twist? What would sixth-grade me want to see happen next?
Share a story about how one of your books affected a young fan.
One of the best things you can hear as a writer is that your books inspired someone else to write. Stumbling across Hero’s Guide fan fiction online was one of the more thrilling things that has ever happened to me. And I will forever save the letter in which two girls adorably asked my permission to use one of my characters in a story they were writing for school. It happened most recently when I got an email from the parent of a child who’d seen a school presentation I did earlier that day; she told me that her son had come home that day and immediately started crafting his own fractured fairy tale version of the Three Little Pigs. That is just so cool.
Christopher Healy is the author of the Hero’s Guide trilogy—the Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom (a NY Times Best Book of the Year), the Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle, and the Hero’s Guide to Being an Outlaw—which is currently in film development with Fox Animation/Blue Sky Studios. He is hard at work on his next novel, The Worst Thing About Saving the World, which will be followed by a new trilogy tentatively called A Perilous Journey of Danger and Mayhem. He lives in New Jersey with his wife, daughter, son, and ridiculous dog.
Publisher’s book description
Prince Liam. Prince Frederic. Prince Duncan. Prince Gustav. You’ve never heard of them, have you? These are the princes who saved Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White, and Rapunzel, respectively, and yet, thanks to those lousy bards who wrote the tales, you likely know them only as Prince Charming. But all of this is about to change.
Rejected by their princesses and cast out of their castles, the princes stumble upon an evil plot that could endanger each of their kingdoms. Now it’s up to them to triumph over their various shortcomings, take on trolls, bandits, dragons, witches, and other assorted terrors, and become the heroes no one ever thought they could be.
Book site: www.officialherosguide.com