Growing Reader

Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver Reflect on the Humor and Truth of Their Here’s Hank Series

by the Brightly Editors

Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver’s Here’s Hank series has developed a dedicated following for its lovable protagonist, realistic themes, and laugh-out-loud moments, as well as its reader-friendly font. At Brightly, we’re sad to see the series come to an end with its 12th installment, Everybody Is Somebody, but we were absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to chat with Henry and Lin and reflect on some of the highlights from writing the series together.

For readers who don’t already know the Hank origin story, can you talk a little bit about how this series originally came together? What was the initial inspiration for Hank?

Lin: Henry and I met for lunch and he told me about growing up with dyslexia, but not having it diagnosed until he was in his 30s. His childhood had so much frustration and the undiagnosed learning challenge took a real toll on him. Fortunately, he was tenacious enough to follow his dream. We both felt that this was excellent material for a series — to help the one in five children in American who have a learning challenge of some sort understand that they can achieve their dreams no matter what the challenge.

Your kids’ books include narratives about big real-life challenges, like anxiety, bullying, and learning disabilities, but they also contain plenty of cheerfulness and humor. How did you find that balance as you wrote? Why is humor important for kids’ stories?

Henry and Lin: We both approach life with humor and feel that humor is the best antidote for pain. It’s much easier to approach a problem if you can see the humor in it. What we aim for in our books is a combination of truth and humor. Laughter is best when it is meaningful and true to life. We feel that the way to kids’ hearts is to make them laugh, and once they’re laughing, you can talk to them about anything. It eliminates any embarrassment or self-consciousness and turns what could be a lecture into an interaction.

What were some of the highlights of working on this chapter book series?

Henry and Lin: Working together and making each other laugh is always the highlight of our creative process. It was fun to picture Hank Zipzer as a younger child, before his learning challenge is diagnosed, and explore the trouble he gets into because of it. There is an innocence to him and his struggles that is so sweet to deal with — it’s like we have his little heart in our hands. And what a pleasure to help this spunky, irresistible, and determined boy to navigate the world.

Which installment is your personal favorite? What makes it special?

Henry: I love How to Hug an Elephant, because I met an elephant in Thailand and we had an instant connection which has made me aware of just how extraordinary this gigantic and gentle creature is.

Lin:  My favorite is Always Watch Out for the Flying Potato Salad! because I love the scene in which Hank drops the pastrami while making a sandwich for the bully, and then washes it off with coconut flavored soap. Later, giant soap bubbles come flying out of the bully’s mouth.

And we both love the last installment, Everybody Is Somebody, because it carries the message of the whole series — that no matter how difficult school can be, it has nothing to do with how brilliant you are.

What is one thing you hope young readers will take away from the Here’s Hank series?

Henry and Lin: We hope that every one of our readers will come to understand that he or she is special and has something unique to offer the world. We are all eagerly waiting to see what each child becomes and what gifts they will bring to our society.