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A knowledgeable canine caretaker introduces readers to an exotic collection of museum treasures, becoming inspired to take one last adventure of his own.
“Everything has a story.” So opens the extraordinary new book Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by first-time author/illustrator Zack Rock, and yes, as the whimsical title implies, not only does this museum itself have a story, every single object within the walls of this old schoolhouse has its own eccentric life. And if you happen to be the curator of this museum, you’d better know how to tell a story. No problem. Homer Henry Hudson is your man, or should I say, dog. Homer, an old bulldog, is like one of the curio items in his museum: worn around the edges, perhaps a little out of place, full of quirk, and resonant with history. He may have a cloudy eye, but his vision is clear, and his taste for adventure knows no bounds. You see, everything in the museum has been discovered, collected, and/or presented to Homer over his long life as an explorer, and over time, the items have become totems—the material representation of past adventures. His first discovery, a Conatusaurus Skull (#0001) “no bigger than a chicken and as rubbish at flying,” found in the soil of his family’s farm, awakens an “unquenchable curiosity” about the world and sets Homer on a life-long quest to uncover, to put it mildly, the unusual. Ostensibly, Homer’s job is to keep the museum presentable for the visitors, and to “sit quiet as a curio” while they explore the exhibits. Each item is accompanied by a description and a personal note as to its provenance. There are thousands of objects in the museum, but it is always his hope that the visitors will gravitate toward the few “favorite bits and bobs” that have become emblematic of his travels. Some are standalone objects, like the Radial Tide Diviner (#0023), a device used by soothsayers on Calypso Island to “predict the future based on tidal pattern.” Unfortunately for the Calypsoian civilization, the entire island slipped into the Ionian Sea after an earthquake in 487 B.C. “Shame the device never warned the soothsayers that their island sat on a massive fault line,” writes Homer. Other objects provide a through line from one part of Homer’s life to another. A young girl who gives the explorer a Nóttlandian Stuffed Animal (#1981) in gratitude for plucking her out of the rebels’ grasp makes an appearance later in the book when she presents Homer with the Manneken Mort of King Ingmar (#3415)—a parting gift from her deceased father King Ingmar for saving his daughter’s life. A Manneken Mort is a figure made of fabric bands, each band representing one story in a Nóttlandian’s life. When a person passes away, friends and family gather, and as each story is recited, another band is added. Like the discovery of the Conatusaurus Skull, upon seeing the Manneken Mort, Henry’s wanderlust is stirred. Has his last band been woven? More importantly, does his explorer’s hat still fit? Zack Rock’s sepia-infused illustrations in Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum are little masterpieces of humor, imagination, and of course, gobsmacking beauty. Anyone who has ever picked up a watercolor brush will understand how little control one has over the medium, and given the complexity of Rock’s illustrations, it’s no surprise that he does a significant amount of planning before brush hits paper. “Usually I make a small, loose(ish) thumbnail sketch of the scene, just to get the composition down. Once that’s resolved, I do a larger, more detailed final sketch. That gets blown up on Photoshop and printed out so I can transfer it over to watercolor paper using a lightbox. If I have any hesitation about the colors, I do a quick digital mockup in Photoshop before the painting begins. After that, there’s no turning back; I’m walking the tightrope with only my brush for balance.” There is a completeness of vision to Rock’s Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum that is cinematic, like a Terry Gilliam film. It is a very particular and artistically playful world, matched in tone and style by Rock’s equally playful word choices. One could spend days with this book and still find visual and narrative treasures anew, like a portrait of Kafka (with antennae) tucked into the corner of a wall, or Homer’s amusing description of how he collected an ornate stone head: “I charged my plane toward the hidden city like a bull. … Though I lacked provisions, I rammed ahead. Though I flew through a porridge of fog, I rammed ahead. Then, I rammed a head.” Brilliant. Though a bulldog, Homer Henry Hudson is the embodiment of that most human of qualities—the desire to find meaning in life, even in the smallest objects and the most seemingly unimportant events. “Look around. Look closer. That bit of cloud may be the first puff of a newborn volcano. Those tree bark scratches may be an obscure secret code. That discarded rock might once have been, or may someday be, the cornerstone of a great kingdom. Everything has a story.” The old bulldog’s declaration at the beginning of the book invites us in to the world of an “eccentric explorer extraordinaire,” but by the end of the book, it takes on a deeper resonance. A call to be mindful, to seek out stories, and most importantly, to be the story—to keep adding those bands to our own Manneken Morts, regardless of our age, or breed. According to his website, Zack Rock is a writer, illustrator, and “cardigan enthusiast.” Born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Rock spent most of his childhood in California, a state not particularly synonymous with cardigan weather. He received his Master’s in Children’s Book Illustration from the Cambridge School of Art in Cambridge, England—suspected source of his love for light, buttoned sweaters. His work has appeared in magazines, newspapers, video games, comic books, and on album covers. Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum is his first picture book, but I have it on good authority that others may be in the queue.
–Donna McKinnon, 32 Pages , 9/1/2014
In Rock’s debut picture book, an eccentric bulldog named Homer Henry Hudson collects “bits and bobs” from around the globe, displaying them floor to ceiling in his museum of curios. Hudson takes great pride in his collection of riches, masterfully illustrated by Rock. These days, sidelined by an injury, this alliterative pooch keeps his museum “spick-and-span” and treats himself nightly to sushi dinner. He introduces museumgoers to his favorite exhibits, such as the Nóttlandian Stuffed Animal (a teddy bear), given as a token of gratitude from a young girl. Or his Humble Willow Root Cane, a twisted stick that mirrors his anguish at not being able to travel. But it’s his affection for the Manneken Mort of King Ingmar, a figurine wound with bands of the king’s life stories, that gets this bulldog wondering. Are his bands complete, or are there more? Rock’s illustrations are rendered in a subdued palette of watercolors, rich in earth tones and infused with touches of humble elegance. Young explorers will pore over the endpaper, title page, and two-page spreads of museum space, drinking in each detailed treasure. Hudson’s droopy, liver-spotted mug is so realistic, readers will want to scratch him behind the ears. Hudson claims, “Everything has a story.” And through his personal descriptions and musings over each artifact, he knows how to tell a good one.
–Kirkus Reviews , 7/1/2014
Homer Henry Hudson is an explorer, collector, and caretaker of the Homer Henry Hudson Curio Museum, where he displays his discoveries for the world. He is also a bulldog, who dresses in jackets and tweed and treats himself to sushi for dinner after a walk through the park. “The walk exercises my feeble leg and the fish diet helps maintain my dazzling figure.” Finally, Homer Henry Hudson is a storyteller, and he loves watching museum visitors discover the tales behind each artifact in his collection. He spends most of the book sharing these stories with readers. From a “Radial Tide Diviner,” found in the Ionian Sea, to a “Nottlandian Stuffed Animal (bear),” all the objects have his adventures at their core. Even the museum itself has an interesting history. While the text focuses on Homer Henry Hudson’s stories, more subtle details about each artifact are hidden in the dusty-brown spreads. The text regularly reminds readers that “everything has a story” while encouraging them to look around more closely to find their own. Text heavy, with dark detailed pictures, this book may appeal most to those who enjoy looking and listening closely.
–Julie Roach, School Library Journal , 10/1/2014
It’s good to have Zack back at 7-Imp. In 2012, his artwork was featured on one of my Up-and-Coming Illustrators Sunday posts, and now his first book is out with Creative Editions. In fact, if you look again at that post from two years ago, you will see that he included two images from this new book back then. (Also, it’s a fun post to re-read, since he talks about studying at England’s Cambridge School of Art with scholar Martin Salisbury. Zack described it as “a no-holds-barred, steel cage death match of mutual respect and encouragement.”) The new book is called Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum and will be released in mid-August. “Everything has a story,” the book opens, and Zack’s is a beguiling one. Henry is a bulldog, who owns a museum of curios from all over the world. He proudly displays several in the book and tells readers about them—from a Conatusaurus Skull from the Late Jurassic Period to a Humble Willow Root Cane. The collection includes delightfully bizarre artifacts, and Homer is a fine storyteller. I like the art in this book (illustrations that the Kirkus review describes as possessing “touches of humble elegance”), and the writing is outstanding. (“My job is to keep the place spick-and-span,” Henry says when we first meet him. “My eyesight isn’t what it used to be, but I’m a proper Magellan at nose navigation. You’d be surprised how well a 6th-century Byzantine bedpan keeps its distinctive aroma.”) Zack Rock is one to watch. I’m going to let Zack talk now and share some of his artwork. Enjoy. P.S. If you visit his 2012 7-Imp post, you can spot Maurice Sendak, Shaun Tan, and Lisbeth Zwerger in one of the illustrations from this book. * * * Zack: Thanks again for having me back aboard the good ship 7-Imp! It was an honor being previously featured as an up-and-coming illustrator and an absolute joy to return as an arrived-and-here illustrator. I can only hope 7-Imp will continue to record my career in the decades to come, even if it’s only in a Where Are They Now-type feature, far down the road (SPOILER: undefeated tango champion at Deer Glen Assisted Living Facility). For now, I’m super excited to share my first book, Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum! It’s the tale of a globetrotting explorer and the bounty of bizarre bits-and-bobs he collects on his adventures. Part Indiana Jones, part Hoarders, but with the one element those series were conspicuously lacking: an elderly, half-blind talking dog. Starting in the present day with an introduction to the crowded museum, the book then flashes back to the rise and fall of Homer Henry Hudson via the curio descriptions themselves. It was a fun way to narrate his biography and buys the reader a ticket to all the exotic locales HHH has pilfered (as well as a sushi restaurant). But the big draw for many has been the smörgåsbord of artifacts in the book. Every drop of my imagination was wrung out to fill the museum, leaving a skosh over 100 exhibitions in the book. Each has a story, though for the most part I’ve left them for the reader to dream up. The journey from first draft to final was almost as calamitous as one of H³’s adventures. The original idea sprawled out to include seven main characters, a trio of taxidermic bulldogs, a pair of dead parents, and one sinister white squid. After some minor retooling (picture an ax-wielding lunatic with a vendetta against paper), I pared it down to only one main character. And only one dead parent. Working with Creative Editions on the book was beyond wonderful. Tackling a project like this is daunting to say the least, but the dedication Creative’s publisher Tom and art director Rita had to Homer carried me through the many harrowing legs of the journey. When I first approached them with my portfolio, I felt like the high school Science Fiction Club president asking the prom queen for a dance, and I’m still stunned by the faith they have in my work. Sadly, two individuals whose talents helped shape Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum passed away before its release: my editor Aaron and printer Ermanno. Along with writing some of the most engaging titles Creative Editions has released, Aaron’s deft red pen led my original text away from the brink of obscurity. And Ermanno’s genius not only revived the illustrations after my particularly poor scanning job nearly derailed the project, he made them just shine on the page. But beyond their professional abilities, they were a couple of the warmest and kindest people I’ve ever met. The world’s poorer for their absence. Currently, I’m chiseling away at another book for Creative, this time about an acrobatic young pig whose life changes after an encounter with a bookstore. Something about surrounding short, squat little animals with stuff evidently appeals to me. It’s called The Unexpected, and you can expect it 2016.
–Julie Danielson, Seven Impossible Things before Breakfast , 8/1/2014
The building housing Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum was once a school. It survived the Columbus Day Twisters of ’67 that carried the school house “skyward, where it leaped and pirouetted” before it landed “four towns over.” Not surprisingly, this rather remarkable building attracted the attention of an eccentric explorer called Homer Henry Hudson, who turned it into a museum full of curiosities. Every artifact in the museum has a note with it that identifies what it came from. The notes also provide visitors with a little background information about the artifacts. Here, for example, is a stuffed toy bear from Nottlandia. It was knitted using handspun yarn made out of Arctic Fox fur. A young girl whom Homer Henry Hudson rescued from rebels during an uprising gave him the bear as a thank-you for saving her life. One of the places Homer Henry Hudson visited was a temple in the Andes Mountains. There he was asked to get the temple parrot priest to give up a piece of wood that it had taken from the temple wall. As a thank-you for his help, one of the temple’s caretakers gave Homer Henry Hudson a choir finch, which is able to chant a perfect C sharp. This finch became a part of Homer Henry Hudson’s collection. Unbeknown to the temple caretakers, Homer Henry Hudson took the piece of wood that the parrot gave up, which turned out to be a map that showed him where a hidden city was located. He flew his plane towards the city “blinded by the sparkle of imagined treasure.” Even when his plane was enveloped by fog, he flew on until he crashed and paid a terrible price for his greed. In this unusual picture book, the author tells a story of an explorer who made a terrible choice in his past, but who finally, through the stories of his curios, realizes what has been holding him back from doing what he loves to do. Children and adults alike will be intrigued by the story and will enjoy speculating about what Homer Henry Hudson will do next.
–Marya Jansen-Gruber, Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews , 9/1/2014