Having raised two daughters who are now accomplished professionals, and after teaching English and math for more than 30 years, local author Judy Zummo understands and appreciates a child’s sense of humor, imagination and fairness. She speaks to all of them in her delightful “Henry and Hinky” books. This Saturday, she will present her most recent addition to this series, “Penny Copper Gets Blown Away” at the Jabberwocky Bookstore.
As the action begins, Penny Copper, a Rhode Island Red chicken, is resting comfortably in her nest when a sudden blast of wind comes through, whirling and carrying her through the air. When her involuntary flight ends with a splat against a tree, a dizzy and disconcerted Penny finds herself in a strange place, far from the familiarity and comfort of Farmer Brown’s barnyard.
The first character to pop up in this new land is none other than the notorious Pirate Frog Sneet, who has played star roles in Zummo’s earlier books. True to character, Sneet has selfish plans for Penny—to catch and capture her and bring her back to his bog. Empowered with the speed of fear, Penny manages to evade him and continues her quest for home.
Along the way, she encounters a series of friendly animals—including a possum, a cow, and a crow named Calvin. But, in short time, a new villain creeps up from behind—Reggie Fox—who imagines Penny as his tasty chicken dinner. Calvin squawks and flaps into action, doing his best to protect Penny, and soon, the stars of Zummo’s eponymous book series—Henry and Hinky—arrive on the scene. The crew accompanies Penny as she continues her search—and helps her detect and evade Reggie’s ploys. When, finally, Farmer Brown’s voice is heard calling for Penny, a time for great celebration is at hand.
Zummo says her books are close to her heart because they are rooted in family experiences. Henry and Hinky are modeled after two dogs she owned—a “big mutt” and a dachshund—and their names came from two imaginary friends that her oldest daughter created in her childhood. As for Penny, Zummo recalled she used to have neighbors “who kept trying to raise chickens.”
“Something was getting all those chickens, but one came to live with us and befriended my mutt,” she said, “and that was the basis for this story.”
Though the Henry and Hinky books are written for elementary-age children, middle-school students also enjoy Zummo’s book readings. This might be due to her warm and embracing personality and the fact that they know her as a teacher. But her popularity might also have something to do with the words she chooses and the caliber of her writing.
“I make a conscious effort not to talk down to young readers,” she said.
One example is the phrasing of her depiction of the terrible storm that whisked Penny Copper away: “The wind gusted, the thunder boomed, and the lightning ripped across the night sky in jagged forks.”
In addition, Zummo found an illustrator, Rebecca Russell, who was a perfect match for her writing.
“She was able to get inside of my head and create what I had visualized—both the personality of the characters and the action that was going on,” Zummo said. “My main goal is to have good triumph over evil. All my books have that bad little frog, Sneet, but Henry and Hinky are able to do away with his mischief!
“My hope is that kids who come to my reading will enjoy and visualize the story and think that it was fun, leaving with a desire to read even more,” said Zummo. “I think it’s important for children to read, because it sparks their imagination and creativity, and it can be a bonding experience to read with their parents.”