Relates several short episodes of Margaret and her brother Taylor, all pertaining to Grandpas surprise birthday party.h all the telltale signs of true love: dog-eared pages, fingerprints on my favorite illustrations, my name and address inscribed on both front and back covers in inch-high lettering, and the faint smell of stale peanut butter on the bindings, he says in an interview on his web site. Back in his peanut-butter sandwich days, Henkes dreamed of becoming an artist. By high school, he had combined his love of drawing with a newfound interest in writing, and at age 19, he took his portfolio to New York City in hopes of finding a publisher. Young Henkes returned home from his weeklong trip with a contract from Greenwillow Books, and hes worked as a childrens writer and illustrator ever since. Henkess style has evolved over the years to include more humor, more whimsy and a lot more mice. Though he began illustrating his picture books with realistic drawings of children, hes since developed a recurring cast of mouse characters rendered in a more cartoon-like style — though with a range of expressions that make the spirited Lilly, anxious Wemberly, fearless Sheila Rae and sensitive Chrysanthemum into highly believable heroines. Owen, the story of a little mouse who isnt ready to give up his tattered security blanket, won a Caldecott Honor Medal for its winsome watercolor-and-ink illustrations. Many of Henkess mouse books deal with such common childhood ordeals as starting school, being teased and getting lost. Chrysanthemum, about a mouse whose new schoolmates tease her about her name, was inspired by Henkess own feelings when he started school. The book is about family, and how starting something new and going out into the world can be very hard, he told an interviewer for The Five Owls. I remember going to kindergarten — my grandfather had a beautiful rose garden, and he gave me the last roses of the season to bring to the kindergarten teacher the next day. I dont even remember how it happened, but an older kid took these flowers from me on the playground, and I remember coming home, feeling awful. As a grown-up, Henkes is able to translate difficult childhood transitions into stories that are both honest and reassuring. In a review of Chrysanthemum, Kirkus Reviews noted: Henkess language and humor are impeccably fresh, his cozy illustrations sensitive and funny, his little asides to adults an unobtrusive delight. Henkes has also written novels for older children, in which he explores family relationships with breathtaking tenderness (Publishers Weekly). In The Birthday Room, for example, a twelve-year-old boy learns the reason for his mothers long estrangement from her brother, and helps effect a reconciliation. Refreshingly, Henkes has given us a male protagonist who is reflective, creative and emotionally sensitive, wrote Karen Leggett in The New York Times Book Review. Ben feels the anguish of his mothers long-simmering bitterness and his uncles agonizing guilt. Yet at a time when it is almost a fad to blame dysfunctional families for problems, we learn that even though there are never simple answers and not many fairy-tale endings, families can heal. Though his novels are more complex and serious than his picture books, all Henkess works suggest an author with deep empathy for the intense emotions of childhood. As a Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote, Behind each book is a wide-open heart, one readers cant help but respond to, that makes all of Henkess books of special value to children.
Good To Know
Henkess wife, Laura Dronzek, is also an artist. She painted the cover illustration for Henkes novel Sun and Spoon and illustrated his picture book Oh!. Henkes has turned down requests to use his mouse characters in a television series, but some of his books are available in video form in Chrysanthemum and More Kevin Henkes Stories. The videos narrators include Meryl Streep, Sarah Jessica Parker and Mary Beth Hurt. Lillys Purple Plastic Purse has been adapted into a stage play.