Imagine that you’ve lived by yourself for as long as you can remember, and your best friend who visits you almost every day suddenly disappears. You know that his family is looking for him, and you have a sense that he’s calling to you. Would you leave your home, from which you’ve never ventured far, and travel farther than you ever dreamed in search of your friend?
This happens to Horatio, a hedgehog who is friends with a river otter named Rollic, in the book Horatio’s One Wish. Horatio doesn’t hesitate to set out in search of his friend, and so begins an amazing adventure for Horatio that is chronicled by first-time book author Joshua Kriesberg. Although this paperback is geared toward 8- to 12-year-olds, Kriesberg’s crisp writing style and inventive imagination make it a fun story for readers of all ages.
SmallAnimalChannel interviewed Kriesberg about his story and writing process. Kriesberg also provided an excerpt from Horatio’s One Wish. The book is available in paperback or Kindle edition at Amazon.
Why did you choose a hedgehog as your protagonist? And why hamsters as companions?
Horatio is set apart in the story. He’s been separated from his home and he lives alone. I wanted to choose an animal that was physically separate and distinct from other small mammals as well. In the case of a hedgehog, the physical difference that makes it stand apart is its quills.
I also wanted to choose a small mammal, as opposed to a larger animal, because I wanted the main character to be vulnerable. The predator-prey relationship is a strong theme in the story. It creates immediate tension because the character that is the potential prey can be attacked at any time.
I chose hamsters because my two sons were so fond of hamsters at the time I started writing the story. And I made the hamsters twins because my sons are twins. Although when my boys got older, they decided to get guinea pigs as pets!
Is it correct that the hedgehog is based on the wild European hedgehog rather than the pet African hedgehog?
The story takes place in an imaginative world with both real animals and made-up creatures. So I wasn’t focused on a specific species or whether the animals in the story would actually ever interact in the wild in real life. I will let the readers decide for themselves what part of the world the story might take place.
How did you come to choose the names for your main characters?
I chose the name Horatio because that sounded like a heroic name to me; it reminds me of the word “hooray,” so it has an upbeat sound to it. I came up with the names of Whisklet and Whimser because I wanted somewhat light and whimsical names. The main nemesis of the story, Scarretchen, needed to be a threatening-sounding name, so I combined the words “scar” or “scare” with the word “wretched” to make the name Scarretchen.
Please describe each of the main characters with one word.
Mish and Mosh: Mischievous
Do you have any favorite scenes from the book? If so, what are they?
I have many scenes and characters that I like throughout the book. I like the scene where Horatio meets Whisklet and Whimser, and the snails, Mish and Mosh, in Chapter 3. (The excerpt comes from this scene). I like the scene with Graysent where he explains the tale of Scarretchen in Chapter 4. I like the character of Latch, the flying squirrel, who appears in Chapters 9 and 10. I like the character of Francis Hopper, the bullfrog, who appears in Chapter 18. And, of course, I very much like the scene where Horatio makes his one wish, in Chapter 21. But I won’t say anything more about that scene.
What was the most difficult thing about writing this book? The easiest?
The most difficult part of the book was the ending, because I wanted it to be unique. I didn’t want people to see the ending as derivative of many other more typical endings in children’s novels. The other challenge was in introducing the character of Leala, the champion archer from the hedgehog village. She appears at different parts of the novel, and I needed to decide at what points she should appear and how often. I can’t say there were any really easy parts of the novel, as each chapter required many revisions. My first draft was about 100 pages longer than the final, so I had to cut out large sections to improve the flow of the story as well.
What do you want readers to get out of this book?
First, I want readers of all ages to simply enjoy the story and have fun reading it. If the book helps foster a love of reading in any child, simply because they enjoyed reading it, then it was a success. But there are a lot of important themes in this story that I hope readers might think about, once they’ve finished the story. How much should a person do to help a friend? What are the examples of loyalty in the story? Courage? Teamwork? Compassion? Sacrifice? I believe the story can be read at many different levels. But if the reader just wants to read the story and take a ride into a world of imagination, that’s fine too.
Your bio mentions that the book began as “make-up” stories for your sons. What year did the stories begin and when did you start writing them down? How long did it take to write the book once you began?
I started these stories when my boys were about 4 years old (or about in 2001), and I used the same characters in different adventures up until they were about 8 or 9 years old. When I made the stories up for my boys, the main characters were the hamsters and the snails. Since my boys were twins I naturally made up characters who were also twins for my stories.
I introduced the character Horatio for the novel as I needed one central protagonist. Then the hamsters and the snails became Horatio’s companions on his journey. I knew I was writing a novel primarily for the 8- to 12-year-old reader.
I started writing the novel in 2007 and finished the first complete edited draft in 2008. So I completed most of the book over the course of one year, writing for about two to three hours each day consistently. But then I put the book away and didn’t look at it for a long while. I edited the book off and on, over and over again, for several years — even up to the last few days — before I finally decided I was ready to publish it in 2013.
Is this the first book you’ve published?
Yes it is.
Was it your dream to be a writer?
I have been writing since I was a boy. I remember when I was in 3rd grade I would make up stories to tell to the class. My classmates enjoyed the stories so much that my teacher set one hour a week for me to tell the class a story. I would stand up in front of the class and read the story I had written that week. They couldn’t wait to hear the next story the next week.
Then when I was in 7th grade I wrote a novella; it was about 70 pages. It was an adventure story and the characters were toys that I played with at home. I found the novella some 30 years later and in re-reading it as an adult it reminded me of the time in my life when I would just write stories for the fun of telling an adventure, without trying for any real higher purpose but to have fun.
I wanted to try to recapture that way of story-telling and set off to write my novel. I really didn’t know where it would take me, but I wanted to have fun with it and to tell an adventure story. It’s been a great experience. And I feel if I stay true to the purpose of writing I felt as a kid — create an adventure and have fun with it — I will continue to be able to produce more novels readers will want to read over time.
Below, Kriesberg sets the scene for an excerpt from Horatio’s One Wish, copyright 2008/2012 Joshua Kriesberg.
Horatio has ventured out into an unknown world to try to rescue his best friend, Rollic, a river otter, who has gone missing. Horatio has just barely escaped a hawk attack and has fled into a forest where he meets hamster twins, Whisklet and Whimser.
“I tell you what,” said Whisklet, “small mammals like us need to stick together. Look, we haven’t gone on an adventure for a while. Why don’t we accompany you?”
“How about it!” Whimser nodded. “It isn’t safe to travel alone, and we’ve got a lot of experience staying away from predators.”
Horatio’s face beamed. He was almost speechless. “Do you really mean it?”
“That would be wonderful!”
Horatio’s broad smile heartened the hamsters. “That settles it, then. So tell me,” said Whisklet, “where do you think your otter friend went?”
“He was going to visit a swimming hole. A popular one.” Horatio didn’t want to tell them about the sound of the river inside him, the sound of Rollic calling to him. He wasn’t sure they’d understand.
“We know just about every swimming hole on this side of the river. There’s one with a waterfall slide otters love. We can take you to it.”
“That would be …” Horatio was at a loss for words. “Wonderful!” he repeated.
“How were you planning on getting there?” asked Whisklet.
“Well, the Wingwots told me to come here to the Forest of Epoh, and I was planning to head that way,” Horatio pointed his paw straight ahead of him.
Whisklet looked around him. They were in the middle of a forest. There was no path to follow. “You were just going to go that way?” He raised his paw in the direction Horatio had.
“Uh-huh,” Horatio nodded.
“And walk into a swimming hole.”
“Not much of a plan?”
“Honk!” Whimser broke out laughing. “Honk!”
Horatio had never heard a honk come out of a mammal. His shock made Whisklet burst into laughter. “The look on your face,” he pointed to Horatio. “I know. I know. No one laughs like my brother,” he slapped Whimser on the back.
“Honk! Honk!” Whimser couldn’t stop. This was just too much for Horatio and he started laughing out loud.
“Oh, my,” said Whisklet, wiping his eyes, as he tried to compose himself. “It’s not going to be that easy to get to the swimming holes. It’s several days’ travel. Did you bring anything with you for the trip?”
“I brought a knapsack full of food. But the hawk dropped it in the middle of the field. I don’t want to go back there.”
“No, you shouldn’t. That’s outside the Forest of Epoh. It’s prime hunting ground for hawks.”
“We can get it for you,” a high-pitched voice called out.
Horatio spotted two small chubby snails gliding slowly down the tree toward him. “I didn’t know snails could talk,” said Horatio.
“These aren’t your usual snails,” said Whimser. “They can talk to insects, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds. They speak more languages than anyone I know.”
“Well, we ushually don’t like to talk to birdsh. Or anything elshe that might eat ush. I’m Mish, and thish ish my brother Mosh,” said Mish.
“Nishe to meet you,” said Mosh.
“Nishe, I mean nice to meet you,” said Horatio.
“We’ll bring your knapshack right back,” said Mish. Horatio waited, but the snails didn’t seem to be going anywhere. If they were moving, they were progressing at the most sluggish pace (a term Mish and Mosh would have found particularly offensive). Horatio couldn’t imagine how two small snails could manage to push his knapsack all the way from the field.
Whimser seemed to read Horatio’s mind. “I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking it would take snails forever to get your knapsack back, right?”
Horatio nodded ever so slightly, trying hard not to offend anyone.
“Well, when you watch them, it does look like they’re hardly moving. But when you don’t watch them, it’s amazing how much ground they cover. Tell me, have you ever seen how fast snails move when you’re not watching them?”
Horatio thought about it a while. “No, I guess I haven’t.”
“Well, neither has anyone else. I think it’s a common misconception that snails move slowly. They just don’t like to be watched. How would you feel if everyone watched you to see how fast you moved?”
“I’m not sure,” said Horatio.
“Well, I don’t think you’d like it. Mish and Mosh can move like lightning — when no one is watching. Just leave it to them. If they say they can get your knapsack back, they probably can. They’ve helped us in our travels more than we can say.” He waved his paw in the direction of the snails. When Horatio glanced at them, they still didn’t seem to be moving.