Tag Archives: Kevin Henkes

Destined to Be a Classic

WaitingAs you may know from my four-part series on picture books, I consider them to be the great literature of young children’s books. I read so many cute, sweet, or funny picture books each week, but every once in a while, I find one that stands out from the rest. Waiting, by the beloved Kevin Henkes, is destined to be a classic.

This large-format beauty is deceptively simple: just a row of toys sitting on a windowsill, waiting. The colors are soft—even the font is brownish, instead of black—and for contrast, Henkes used watercolors for the interior scenes and color pencils for the outdoors, which is almost wholly represented by a single tree branch showing the changes of the seasons. The pages are thick, creamy matte paper, and the book has just a few, profound words.

I read an interview with Mr. Henkes concerning this new book, and he said that he had been struck by how much time children spend waiting. Here, the toys have varied personalities and are all waiting for something different. For example, the pig with the umbrella is waiting for rain, and the dog with the sled is waiting for snow. Henkes said his favorite character is the rabbit on the accordion spring; he’s not waiting for anything in particular. Just waiting.

There are so many details to discuss with a little one in these pages, and some may be understood more deeply by the adult reader. More toys come to join them. Some stay, some do not. There are poignant scenes and humorous ones. There is a toy-like death and a surprising birth: the cycle of life. I felt a nostalgic longing throughout that reminded me that children are often patiently waiting, but are usually not making the choices in their lives. They do not know why the branch outside now has flowers on it, or why there is a new person living near them, but they learn, accept, and wait for more, like toys on a windowsill: able to see, but not able to change their circumstances.

No child should grow up without this innocent, beautiful picture book. If you don’t have little ones, borrow some or at least pretend to, and spend some quiet time slowly turning the pages. If you love it, you will be glad to know that Kevin Henkes has a whole row of delightful reading experiences waiting for you.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book (although if the author wants to send me a signed copy, I just might treasure it forever). Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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The Year of Billy Miller, by Kevin Henkes

ImageJust before school starts, Billy takes a fall during a family vacation, and now he has a lump on his head. He worries that he’s injured his brain, but when he asks his father if he thinks he’s smart enough for second grade, Papa says that not only is he smart enough, but he thinks that this will be the Year of Billy Miller.

Billy’s mom teaches high school English, so she leaves for work every morning, and his father is an artist, so he stays home and takes care of Billy and his three-year-old sister, Sal, who won’t go anywhere without her stuffed whales, the Drop Sisters: Raindrop, Dewdrop, Snowdrop, Gumdrop, and Lemondrop. Sometimes the Drop Sisters make them late for school because it takes them so long to go to the bathroom. In second grade, Billy and his best friend Ned learn to make habitat dioramas that turn out to be enhanced by Sal’s glitter; his teacher, Ms. Silver, wears chopsticks in her hair every day—a different color for each outfit; and as the year goes on, Billy learns to deal with his anger toward Emma Sparks, the most irritating little girl in Room 2.

Although Kevin Henkes may be best known for his beloved picture books like Chrysanthemum and Lily and the Purple Plastic Purse, he is also the Newbery-winning author of Olive’s Ocean, a middle-grade novel. The Year of Billy Miller is deceptively simple, with stories of everyday family life revealing Papa’s worries about not making enough money, or Billy realizing that, although his little sister can be incredibly silly and annoying, he really loves her very much. While completing the last project of the year, writing a poem about someone you love, Billy finds out that his mother likes all sorts of things almost as much as she loves being his mother.

If Clementine is the little girl star of chapter books, Billy Miller is the little boy counterpart. He’s not perfect, but he’s growing through all of the challenges and experiences of second grade with his terrifically supportive family and even a great babysitter. In short, the mom in me thinks he’s a sweetie pie. Though not as complex as some other Newbery contenders this year, The Year of Billy Miller is certainly in the running. More about that in my Newbery summary. Medal or not, you do not want your young readers to miss this one. For fluent readers seven and up, this is beautifully done.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions are only my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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