PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Fifty years ago, a Portland author developed a friendship of sorts with Roald Dahl — the writer who’s been called “one of the greatest storytellers for children of the 20th century.”
The author sent Dahl one of her stories, which led to it being published. Decades later, she’s continued to pay it forward to aspiring young writers.
For most of the pandemic, you could find novelist April Henry at her southwest Portland home, working on her latest books. She has more than two dozen young adult, mystery and thriller novels that have already been published.
All her current work is quite different than one of her early short stories, which she had sent to the famous author.
“I wrote a story about a 6-foot-tall frog named Herman who loved peanut butter,” Henry explained. “I decided that Roald Dahl, who wrote ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ and ‘Matilda’ and ‘James and the Giant Peach’ would like to read my story.”
To her surprise, she received a card from Dahl, saying he’d loved her story — so much so that he sent it to his editor, who had a children’s magazine called “Puffin’ Post.” That’s how Henry became a published writer.
“It started me on the path of being a writer,” she said. “Having someone take me that seriously and believe in me like that.”
They wrote to each other a few more times and Henry never forgot the impact that Dahl had on her.
She wanted to do the same for the next generations of writers.
Before the pandemic, Henry talked to 25,000 kids a year in schools across the country. Now, she’s picking it back up again.
“When kids are first starting to write, it would be easy to say well you didn’t use strong verbs or this is a run-on sentence,” Henry said. “But [Dahl] just talked about how he liked it and I think when kids are first starting out, you really need to encourage them — you don’t crush their dreams.”
While much of Dahl’s work was celebrated, he wasn’t without controversy, some of his stories have been criticized for racial stereotypes and misogyny. Henry admits he was a complicated man, but one whose encouragement propelled her.
Henry’s latest novel, titled “Two Truths and a Lie,” is out now. Check it out on her website.