Every year the American Library Association presents a Children’s Literature Legacy Award which honors “an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children through books that demonstrate integrity and respect for all children’s lives and experiences.” Past winners have included Jacquelie Woodson, Tomie dePaola, Eric Carle, Maurice Sendak and Theodor S. Geisel (Dr. Seuss).
This year Kevin Henkes, both an author and illustrator, has received this honor. You may be familiar with his delightful mouse picture books which began with A Weekend with Wendell (1986) followed by such popular books as Owen (1994 – a Caldecott Honor book) and Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse (1996) as well as the well-received Penny series. Henkes’ many other picture books include Kitten’s First Full Moon (Caldecott Medal book – 2005) and Waiting (Caldecott Honor and Geisel Honor Book – 2016). Henkes has also created fine contributions in the area of chapter books for older readers including The Year of Billy Miller (Newbery Honor Book – 2014) and Junonia (2011). Three of our Kevin Henke’s books are highlighted below. You will find many of his other books in our children’s collection.
Alice couldn’t wait to see her first pelican or her first seagull as her family drove over the bridge to the island of Sanibel, a journey they made every February, escaping the wintery cold of Wisconsin. She loved being here for her birthday each year, but this year would be extra special for she was turning 10 – double digits! Perhaps this would even be the year she would find a rare junonia shell. She looked forward to renewed friendships and the return to a beloved place.
However, she soon realizes that all is not the same – some expected friends will not be there and a pesky 6-year-old has inserted herself into this traditional setting. Henke, with gentle insightfulness, let’s the reader in on Alice’s thoughts, as she grapples with change and others’ needs. The reader listens in on Alice’s musings, as she observes the life around her through the natural childlike lens of self. But at the week’s end, Alice begins to focus outwardly with a gradual recognition of the significance of different backgrounds, gaining newly found understandings.
Henkes has created a quiet tale of family and relationships that is a gem – just as is a junonia.
When Kitten sees her first full moon, she assumes it is a “little bowl of milk in the sky.” Being a novice in the ways of the world, her instincts propel her to try to get a taste of that mouthwatering milk. Humorous antics ensue as Kitten finds herself defeated with each of her attempts. Children will assume an all-knowing air as they giggle at Kitten innocently pursuing a lick of the alluring “bowl of milk.” In the end, Henke creates a satisfyingly cozy ending. Henke’s illustrations are done completely in black and white along with shades of gray. With simple lines he is able to convey not only Kitten’s actions but also a variety of emotions as she seeks her liquid treasure.
Owl, puppy, bear, rabbit and pig, all toys on a child’s window sill, gaze out waiting for their own personal wishes to materialize. They appear content in their waiting – patient, with an intuitive sense that their desires will eventually arrive. Henke’s illustrations, done in soft pastels, reflect a calmness that pervades the story. Children will be drawn in to this quiet picture book, even though waiting is not always easy for a young child. As the pages are turned, one wonders if something might appear that is wholly unexpected? And along with this seemingly uncomplicated tale, one senses that waiting provides time for looking about – noticing all that one is surrounded by in everyday life. A thought worthy for us all.