When you hear Kevin Henkes, you may immediately think of Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse. While Lily isn’t even in my top 3 favorite Henkes characters, I laughed (and cried) a little when I read about how she came to be. (The crying part of the laugh is thanks to my own toddler that is equal parts adorable and exhausting these days.) Henkes was sitting in an airport waiting for a flight and found himself watching a young girl with a toy purse that played a song when opened. The girl was enamored of her purse and kept opening and closing it, much to her father’s dismay. (Bless parents and patient fellow travelers everywhere.) The image stuck in Henkes’s mind and Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse was born.
About the Author
Kevin Henkes lives in Wisconsin, where he was born and raised. By the time he was a junior in high school, he knew he wanted to write and illustrate children’s books. He spent the rest of his years in his hometown and his first year of college studying everything he could find about the business, enlisting the help of local librarians that have followed his career ever since. He is married to another artist, Laura Dronzek. They have two children. Part of their family routine as the kids were growing up was Henkes reading aloud to the family during breakfast. (A man after my own heart!) He writes his first drafts in pen and then types the later manuscripts. He says he’ll stick to that routine, “as long as I can still get ribbons for my typewriter.” One thing that stuck out as I read and watched interviews is that he loves what he does: “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.”
About the Books
Kevin Henkes published his first book, All Alone, when he was 20. 20! He has written over 30 books for children and teens, including multiple Newbery and Caldecott honor books and one Caldecott award winner. He is probably best known for his mouse books, starting with A Weekend with Wendell. I especially love that each mouse has such a strong (but nuanced) personality. The feeling of each protagonist comes through in the text and in the illustrations. I’ve used many of Henkes’s books to teach lessons about kindness, patience, and courage, but they are not preachy. I think kids respond so well to his books because they are true to actual experiences and feelings. I remember worrying that Chrysanthemum’s nightmares or Lily’s jealousy would teach my kids the wrong lesson. If anything, I think the truthfulness of the books is what makes them classics.
Chrysanthemum will always be my favorite Kevin Henkes book. I think my mom picked it up for me because chrysanthemums are my birth flower (it’s a thing, I promise) and I wanted to know what they looked like. It is one of those picture books that I consider MY book. I’m still reading that same copy to my own children, although I’ve had to tape the back together a few times. Kitten’s First Full Moon is beautiful and captures the attention of all the little readers at our house. My new (to me) favorite is Birds, which was illustrated by Henkes’s wife. In fact, the entire book was inspired by a series of paintings she had done for a gallery show. I didn’t know that when I first read the book, but it makes so much sense now. The artwork in the book is stunning.
There were so many quotes I loved when I was reading interviews with Kevin Henkes. He has a lot of wise things to say about children and art and the process of creation. In the end, this was my favorite of all the things he had to say: “If we expose our kids to books and art, nothing but good can come of it.”
You can learn more about Kevin Henkes and his books on his website.