Children's Authors/Kevin Henkes

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Biographical Information[edit | edit source]

Henkes attended University of Wisconsin.

Kevin Henkes was born in 1960 in Racine, Washington, and comes from a family of five children. Growing up in Racine, he loved to visit the art museum and was often inspired by his visits there, imagining himself to be an artist himself someday. He also loved to read, and his junior year of high school, he decided he wanted to write and illustrate his own children’s books for a living because of an inspiring English teacher who helped him realize his writing talents. Henkes went to college at the University of Wisconsin, and after his first year of college, traveled to New York City to talk to publishers about his book ideas. He had his first book published, All Alone, in 1981. He is most famous for his mice as character books, with the first one published in 1986, A Weekend with Wendell. He ended up writing 13 books with mice characters. He won the Caldecott Award in 2005 with his story, Kitten’s First Full Moon. He also won a Newberry Award in 2004 for the book, Olive’s Ocean, becoming a rare author-illustrator to win both a Caldecott and a Newberry Award. He has currently written 32 picture books and 11 novels, with more on the way!

Henkes is well known for bringing visual imagery and effective character development to his books. He is also known for the strong character traits in his books and said in an interview,“Books begin with character; character is the seed from which a book grows.” He also said, "Books are often the first exposure to art that children have. Keeping that in mind urges me to make the very best books possible. I know how important the books from my childhood were (and are) to me. Without them, I might not be a writer and artist today. Sometimes I’ll hear from a parent about how a book of mine has insinuated itself into the heart of his or her child, or how a phrase from one of my books has become part of the family’s daily jargon. I love that. But most of all, I love sitting alone in a quiet room drawing and painting and writing. I love my job.” [9]

In 2007, Henkes was asked to deliver the prestigious May Hill Arbuthnot Lecture, by the Association of Library Service to Children. This honor is given to “an individual who has made significant contributions to the field of children’s literature.” Kevin Henkes lives in Madison, Wisconsin, with his wife Laura Dronzek, who is also an artist, and their two children.

Books of Interest[edit | edit source]

Kitten’s First Full Moon-Published in 2004, this is a story of perseverance of a kitten who wants to reach the moon, or the “little bowl of milk” as the kitten thinks of it as. Henkes makes the reader hope that the kitten will reach the milk because of the way the kitten is brought to life. You are able to easily understand and infer how the kitten must be feeling. The illustrations are in black and white, which allows the reader to visualize what the kitten is doing. He brings out the sense of adventure that all ages of children can relate to, wanting something so desperately and not giving up!

All Alone- In Henkes first book, published in 1981, the reader is given the sense that being alone at times is perfectly okay, not to be feared. His sensitive illustrations help the reader relate to experiences that one can have when all alone in the world. Henkes uses, once again, his power of vivid words to bring his story to real life understanding. Readers can begin to imagine all the possibilities and endless ideas that you can have when you are not surrounded by others.

Mice are popular characters in Kevin Henkes's books.

Chrysanthemum-Published in 1991, many readers can relate to this book if they have been teased for something so personal, like a name. Henkes matches the words to the illustrations perfectly, creating an experience as if we know Chrysanthemum so well because we see and hear her every thought and feeling. Henkes also uses font changes and bright illustrations to make the story multimodal. He uses excellent word choice to help the reader be immediately captivated by Chrysanthemum and to see what will unfold as the story goes on.

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse-Published in 1996, this became the most popular book in Kevin Henkes's mouse character series. Henkes uses vivid adjectives to help the reader infer how much Lilly loves school, and why. His words help the reader create visual imagery as if you were in Lilly’s class at school. The use of illustrations matches the text and both together create a powerful picture and bring Lilly’s character to life. Readers will be immediately wrapped up in the imagery and brilliant writing of Henkes.

Wemberly Worried-This book was published in 2000, and many people (children AND adults) can immediately see that there is a little bit of Wemberly in all of us. Kevin Henkes does an excellent job at bringing this mouse character to life. Wemberly’s worries are relatable because Henkes adds clear and simple details to portray how we all feel at times. Readers will be able to make connections and how to be able to overcome everyday fears that we all experience.

A Weekend With Wendell-Another of Kevin Henkes's mouse character books, this was the first mouse book to be published, in 1986. Henkes uses humor to bring to life Wendell, an extremely bossy character, a trait that we can all relate to, whether it be in ourselves, or someone that we know. Henkes also brings to life the mouse character of Sophie, who easily gets frustrated with Wendell’s bossiness and deals with it in a way that children can apply in their own life.

Compare/Contrast Books of Interest[edit | edit source]

Henkes’s characters in each book have very different, but very distinct character traits that any reader can relate to and immediately understand. He uses vivid word choice and superb rhythm, where he is able to say so much, in very few words. Mixed with simple, yet detailed illustrations to match the text to the picture, Henkes is able to help the reader create a more powerful visualization. The mouse character books all have strong character traits. Chyrsanthemum is sensitive, Wemberly is a worrier, Lily is extremely energetic, and Wendell is bossy. Each of these characters also has a problem to overcome, related to their strong character trait, that is common to most children (new siblings born, first days of school, being teased in school, etc.). These books also include another strong character that helps the main mouse character solve his/her problem in a way that is good and powerful, that provides hope to readers. Henkes shows through these characters' experiences, that it is possible to create something positive from a difficult situation.

Many people have questioned Henkes with using mice in so many of his books. In an interview, he said, "My early books have realistically rendered humans as the protagonists. As my stories became more humorous, I thought that I could better match my texts by drawing more loosely and using animals as my main characters. Bailey Goes Camping was my first book in which I did this; Bailey and his family are rabbits. For my next book, A Weekend with Wendell, I chose to use animals again, but I wanted to draw something other than rabbits. I made sketches—a dog, a cat, an elephant, and a mouse. I liked the mouse sketch, and so, Wendell was a mouse. I enjoyed doing that book so much, I continued to use mice as the protagonists in many of my picture books. I have no particular affinity for mice, nor was using them repeatedly in my books something I planned to do. It just happened." [9]

All Alone and Kitten's First Full Moon are a few of Kevin Henkes's books that don't include mice characters, but they still exhibit his gift of brilliant words and simple and detailed illustrations. All of his books bring characters alive and captivate the reader to create powerful feelings, both positive and negative, that are memorable and will keep people coming back to the books time and time again.

References[edit | edit source]

[1]Henkes, K. (1986). A weekend with wendell. New York, NY: Greenwillow Books.

[2]Henkes, K. (1981). All alone. New York, NY: Greenwillow Books.

[3]Henkes, K. (1991). Chrysanthemum. New York, NY: Greenwillow Books.

[4]Henkes, K. (2004). Kitten’s first full moon. New York, NY: Greenwillow Books/Harper Collins.

[5]Henkes, K. (1996). Lilly’s purple plastic purse. New York, NY: Greenwillow Books.

[6]Henkes, K. (2000). Wemberly worried. New York, NY: Greenwillow Books/Harper Collins.

[7]7Kurjian, C., Livingston, N., Henkes, K., Sabuda, R., Yee, L. (2005). Children’s books: Evocative books: Books that inspire personal response and engagement. The Reading Teacher, 58(5), 480-488.

[8] Retrieved on March 25, 2012.

[9] Retrieved on March 15, 2012.

[10] Retrieved on March 15, 2012.

[11] Retrieved on March 15, 2012.