Oliver Jeffers’ award-winning children’s book”The Incredible Book Eater Boy“imagine a way a young boy named Henry could absorb books – by eating them. The whimsical picture book was adapted into a musical at the Alliance Theater, and “The Incredible Book Eater Boywill have its world premiere on the Hertz Stage on July 13.
The Alliance has partnered with children readA non-profit organization encouraging the literacy of very young readers and distributing books in our region.
There’s a book drive in conjunction with the show’s theatrical run, and Children Read president Cindy Jaret joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes with Dan Rearden’s director of education Chris Moses and artistic director associated with the Alliance to talk about the musical and its support projects in youth literacy.
Highlights of the interview follow below.
The story of Henry the Book Eater:
“He finds out by accident that he can eat a book and gain knowledge. So once he finds out about this skill, he gets greedy and wants to be the smartest boy in the world,” Moses said. “He It’s not enough to eat a page or even a chapter, he starts eating and swallowing whole books until things start to go wrong for poor Henry.His two digestive tracts rebel, but also all knowledge eventually gets muddled in his brain, so he’s no longer the smartest boy in the world.
“At the end, he discovers that he could still acquire all this knowledge if he starts reading; it might just take a little longer. So, in short, it’s the book, but the play… fleshes out that story a bit. Moses added: “He’s kind of a lesser-known Jeffers. It’s an earlier book, but it’s so theatrical and so funny, and it’s such a good connection to the decades of work we’ve done using theater as a tool to impact literacy. So I thought it would be the perfect play to adapt into a play.
On the mission and impact of Children Read:
“It’s really exciting to be able to walk into the classroom and read to the kids and then hand them their bag of books,” Jaret said. “These kids are so excited, and our goal is to give the books to kids who don’t have access to a lot of books. But of course in a classroom you have a mix of economic status in families, and that doesn’t matter. The children are all very enthusiastic about having their own books and being able to open their own library.
“The story I like to tell is that we recently got feedback from a teacher who said that when she passed out the bags – because of course we couldn’t be there due to COVID – one of the little girls cried. She was so happy, she just cried,” Jaret said. “They told us stories of children who were maybe in shelters and whose parents had no just not the ability to keep a lot of books; not just the financial capacity, but there was no room in the shelters for them to keep a lot of books…and so they could only take what they could take it there. Lots of stories like that.
A feat that defies the logic of production design:
“I can’t give all the tips, but what I promise – there will be food, actual ingestion of stuff,” Moses teased. “The set beautifully honors Oliver’s works. Kat Conley designed the set and painted it, and it painstakingly echoes the work Oliver has done and references his own catalog. It’s really spectacular, and then the props here, there’s a lot of magic and fun.
He continued, “We wanted to make sure we followed this journey from eating a single bite of paper, to an entire page of paper, to an entire book, to multiple books… Production meetings were some of the funniest things I I’ve never seen, all these people who are thinking together, bewildered by this precise question, ‘How are we going to do this? How can he eat a corner of a book? How can he eat an entire book? “The Incredible Book Eating Boy” is on stage at Alliance Theatre’s Hertz Stage from July 13 to August 14. The accompanying community book drive takes place July 1-31. More information and tickets for the musical are available here.