Kevin Henkes Book Review

Kevin Henkes Book Review

Kevin Henkes Books Review

I was a young mother once. Now I am a young grandmother of a six-month-old baby boy. With my baby almost 14 years old, I’ve started sorting through the myriad of toys and picture books in preparation for visiting grandchildren.

I admit there are some items I am more than excited to move out of the house, but then there are some items that call to me. They remind me of raising my children and touch something deep inside of me. They excite the Granny I want to be.

One of those items is the picture book, Chrysanthemum, by Kevin Henkes. Looking at it brings up cherished memories of snuggling and reading to the smallest one at the time with the other children crowded around. But more than cherished memories of that one book is the numerous memories of Henkes’ books that helped our family navigate various childhood growing pains.

The out-loud rhythm of reading Henkes’ picture books is magical. Add his plain understanding of what is most important to a child, his detailed and engaging illustrations, and his light humor, and children are spellbound.

Young children come away from reading his books knowing there are other children like them struggling with the same types of things they are struggling with. They understand most adults care and want to help, but some adults don’t. They understand things seem to work out as people work together. And often children learn in Henkes’ books sometimes you just have to patiently wait.

Kevin Henkes’ numerous books include board books like Little White Rabbit for the youngest child, picture books like Sheila Rae the Brave for 3–6-year-old children, a beginning reading chapter book series featuring Penny, and several middle-grade novels like Bird Lake Moon.

ALA Children’s Literature Legacy Award

I was not surprised to discover the American Library Association named bestselling author/illustrator Kevin Henkes the 2020 winner of the Children’s Literature Legacy Award for his lasting contribution to children's literature. Kevin Henkes has written more than fifty books for young children. His first book, All Alone, was published in 1981 when he was twenty-one years old.

“An artist and author at the top of his craft, Henkes gives us a legacy of work full of honest emotion and insight, warm and gentle humor, and playful, nuanced illustrations.”

- Dr. Sylvia Vardell, Children’s Literature Legacy Award Committee Chair

From a young age, Kevin wanted to be an artist. This desire was inspired by his family’s frequent trips to the library and later the nearby art museum in Racine, Wisconsin. However, it was a high school teacher’s encouragement of his writing that help him determine his career path and ultimately become a beloved children’s author influencing millions of children.

“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.”


Caricaturing Mice

More than half of Kevin Henke’s picture books feature mice as characters. Henke’s said he decided to use animal characters to better incorporate humor. His fondness for mouse characters came after drawing several different types of animals and deciding he liked the mouse sketches best. Though he has no affinity for mice, his mouse books include such beloved characters as Chrysanthemum, Julius, Wendall, Sheila Rae, Chester, Owen, Wemberly, Penny, and my favorite, the extremely spunky Lily who reminds me of my own strong-willed, decked to the hilt, child.

Book Awards

Kevin Henkes’ books have received numerous awards over the years. Some of these awards include:

  • Caldecott Medalist for Kitten’s First Full Moon
  • Newbury Honors Books: Olive’s Ocean and The Year of Billy Miller
  • New York Times Bestsellers: Lilly’s Big Day and Wemberly Worried
  • His picture book, Waiting, is both a Geisel Honor Book and a Caldecott Honor Book.

Personal experiences with Kevin Henkes books

Chrysanthemum My children immediately connected with Chrysanthemum because they have unusual old English names. But even better than connecting over a weird name, they connected with the fact that Chrysanthemum had to keep facing a difficult situation that her parents couldn’t fix for her. Chrysanthemum faced it bravely by taking comfort in her favorite things.

Penny’s Song – One of the difficult things about being a child in a large family is waiting for attention from Mama and Papa. This book gave our family a great opportunity to talk about waiting to receive attention.
However, I think I learned more from this simple early chapter book than my kids did. I don’t have to pay attention to my children every time they desire it, but I do need to communicate and determine a time when they can have my undivided attention. And when that time comes, I need to give them my full, involved attention.

Lily’s Plastic Purple Purse – I have a Lily in my house. I clearly remember her as a two-year-old stomping around in little plastic high heels, wearing an over-loved princess dress, carrying a little purse on her arm, and demanding we go to Walmart. When I explained I didn’t have any money to spend, she replied, “That’s okay. I’ve got my credit card.”

Owen – I was like Owen’s parents when it came to allowing my children to drag along a blanket. Many a beloved blanket went to the zoo, beach, library, church, etc. Owen helped my children realize a little fuzzy from the blanket tucked in their pocket was all they needed when they started school to feel its comfort.

Julius the Baby of the World – was the perfect book to help the youngest child, who was often three years old, prepare for a new little addition to our home. It worked extremely well for one child. He was so kind and gentle with his baby sister; he even shared his beloved trains. However, he was not so nice to me or my mother. We had to work on being nice to everyone for a while.

Teachers Impact Children in Oh so Many Ways

Many of Henke’s mouse books highlight the immense psychological impact a teacher has on individual children. In his books, teachers often inspire youngsters to be better, try new things, and accept themselves with compassion.

If you have never read Chrysanthemum, I encourage you to. Chrysanthemum directly contrasts two different teaching styles. Mrs. Chud’s sole focus is to finish another teaching day while Mrs. Twinkle’s is to observe, understand, find commonality, and inspire.

Here at Teacher Power, we desire to help teachers embrace the joy of teaching to educate and inspire each student, each child to live happy productive lives.


Article by Miss Jae



“Kevin Henkes wins 2020 Children’s Literature Legacy Award.” American Library Association. 2020.

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