catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 1, Num 2 :: 2002.09.27 — 2002.10.10


Of mice and men

Introducing children's book author Kevin Henkes

A few years ago during one of my flings with a college education, I participated in a course which introduced me to whole new world of literary expression. This class looked at the world of picture books, and let me tell you, there are some great works of literature in this genre. As I was paging through some of these books, one author in particular caught my eye and tickled my funny bone, and if you don’t mind I’d like to share with you a bit about the writer and his work.

This particular person is Kevin Henkes, author and illustrator of over 20 fine picture books and novels. Born in 1960 in Racine, Wisconsin, Henkes started writing and drawing at a young age. He completed his first book while in high school, and at the tender age of 19, he moved to New York to pursue a career as an author and illustrator. He now lives in Madison, Wisconsin and is still writing.

Henkes’ books are skillfully and artfully written. He weaves together stories that avoid the simple moralism that often creeps into children’s books while still dealing with relevant issues. Each book is peppered throughout with his wry and understated humor that will keep both the kids and mom and dad laughing. His characters, who are, by the way, anthropomorphized mice, are well-developed and believable, and face realistic conflicts at home and school, with friends or siblings. The stories are smart and fun and come around to resolutions that aren’t contrived or too simple.

Henkes’ illustrations are simple, but also have that understatedness and humor that make his stories so wonderful. Generally he uses ink and watercolors, though some of his more recent books have engaged other media.

Well, I don’t want to keep you too long, so I will bring this introduction to a close by listing a few recommendations and my favorite Henkes books. Like I said, he has over twenty books published right now and I haven’t read them all. But my favorites so far are Chester’s Way, which tells the tale of Chester and Wilson, best friends who in all ways are alike and have their own way of doing things. They have to deal with Lilly, the new kid in town who is in all unalike and challenges their assumptions with her weird and inflammatory behavior. In Julius, Baby of the World we meet up with Lilly again as she tries to adapt to life with a new baby brother, Julius. Her jealous taunting and repeated attempts to lose poor Julius land her repeatedly in the “uncooperative chair” in the corner. This book is great. And funny. Very funny. Finally, there is the story of Chrysanthemum, whose ornate name, which to her is the most wonderful name in the world, makes her the target of some ridicule at school.

Anyhow, I will leave it at that. But next time you are in Barnes and Noble or Chapters I would recommend swinging through the kids’ section and spending five minutes reading one of these great little books. They are well worth the time.

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