Skip to main content

Waiting by Kevin Henkes

There are so many things I love about Waiting by Kevin Henkes. For someone who has been an avid reader and admirer of Henkes's books, from the picture books to the novels, for over twenty years now, Waiting feels like the culmination and perfection of all that is wonderful, special and definitive about Henkes's work as an illustrator and author. Kevin Henkes seems to have a deep understanding and remembrance of childhood that he is able to translate to the page with a genuine, untarnished simplicity that I find very meaningful and memorable.

My advance copy of Waiting came with a letter from Henkes about his new book that I would reprint in its entirety here if it wasn't so lazy. So I'll just quote it a lot. Henkes begins his letter by pointing out something I realized shortly after my first born reached toddlerhood - "children have to wait all the time. They wait for birthdays and holidays and weekends. Waiting is part of their daily lives. 'Wait' is a word like 'yes' or 'no' - something they hear a lot." This is so obviously true and yet something that I don't feel has ever been positively addressed in a picture book, which is exactly what Henkes intended to do with Waiting. In addition to "casting a favorable light" on the concept of waiting, Henkes wanted to put a "slightly different spin" on it by having his characters who are all waiting for different things, including one who "wasn't waiting for anything in particular" at all.

Waiting begins, "There were five of them. And they were waiting . . . " The five figurines, clearly a child's playthings, are inspired by the "small, hand-built animal sculptures" that Henkes has been creating at his local clay studio once a week since 2006. The figurines wait on a windowsill for things outside - snow, wind, rain, the moon - and are happy. The windowsill, the figurines and their view outside are all that readers see in the gentle brown ink, watercolor and colored pencil illustrations. There is no child depicted in the illustrations, but the presence of one is felt when the figurines "sleep" and receive presents. Henkes wanted Waiting to be "simple in its design and universal in its scope." The effect of this draws you into the book, making you feel like you are there with the figurines, waiting, looking out that window as the world changes. The "changing of the seasons, the wonder of nature, sudden sadness and disappointment, unexpected moments of joy, birth, death. All of these things - these aspects of human experience - were filtered through the lens of a child's imaginative play" as Henkes thought about the five figurines and the story that would become Waiting. Surprisingly, this all comes through in this simple, magical book. To excel at it the way Henkes does, and to imbue his books with an authentic childhood perspective is truly a gift.

My daughter, now twenty-two, grew up with Lily, Chrysanthemum, Chester and Wendell from Henkes's Mouse Books. I adore those books, both because of how much she loved them and how much I enjoyed reading them to her. They are rich in humor, character and vocabulary and the parents and adults in the stories are never two-dimensional buffoons or straight men, as in so many picture books. That said, my favorite book by Henkes, now second to Waiting, is the uncomplicated A Good Day, which begins, "It was a bad day . . . " Like Waiting, Henkes takes a simple but powerful childhood emotional experience and looks at it from a new perspective - through a new window - and turns it around. While I love all of Henkes's books, I treasure books like Waiting and A Good Day most because I know how hard it is to write a (meaningful) picture book, especially one that is so economical with words and ideas.

If you aren't familiar with the superlative Kevin Henkes, take a look at his website or my review of his Newbery Honor winning novel, The Year of Billy Miller, which includes an overview of all of his books.

Source: Review Copy


Popular posts from this blog

Made by Dad: 67 Blueprints for Making Cool Stuff - Projects You Can Build For (and With) Kids! by Scott Bedford

On his personal website, Scott Bedforddescribes himself as an "Award Winning Online Creative Professional" working within the advertising and design industry. What is more interesting (and applicable here) is how hisWhat I Made website came to be. While sitting in a Starbucks with his restless young sons, trying to enjoy his latte, Bedford created something out of coffee stir sticks that ended up keeping his boys entertained, finishing his coffee in peace and sparking (re-sparking, really) his creative drive and reminding him of the "enormous joy gained from making things, even simple things, and that this joy is not the complexity or quality of the finished project but in the process of making itself. On Bedford'sWhat I Made website, he even shares Six Cool Coffee Shop Crafts for Kidsthat you can try out next time you want to enjoy your coffee and your kids are making that difficult. I've shared two below - be sure to check out the website and see the rest!


POP-UP: Everything You Need to Know to Create Your Own Pop-Up Book, paper engineering by Ruth Wickings, illustrations by Frances Castle RL: All ages

POP-UP:  Everything You Need to Know to Create Your Own Pop-Up Book with paper engineering by Ruth Wickings and illustrations by Frances Castle is THE COOLEST BOOK EVER!!!  I know that I haven't dedicated much time to pop-up books here, but they have always held a special place in my heart, and the phrase "paper engineering" is a favorite of mine. Although I didn't know what it was at the time, I did go through a paper engineering phase when I was ten or so. I would sneak off to the back of the classroom during independent work periods and go to town on the construction paper and glue and make these little free-standing dioramas. A huge fan of The Muppet Show (the original), I reconstructed the all-baby orchestra from an episode, drawing and coloring each baby and his/her instrument then gluing them onto a 3D orchestra section I had crafted out of brown construction paper.  I also made a 3D version of Snidely Whiplash throwing Nell off a cliff with Dudley Do-Right wa…

The Seeing Stick, written by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Daniela J Terrazini

The Seeing Stick is an original Chinese fairy tale written by the prolific (and prolifically award winning) Jane Yolen. First published in 1977 with illustrations by Remy Charlip (author and illustrator of the brilliantly fun picture book Fortunately and friend and muse to Brian Selznick, who asked him to pose as George Méliès while he was working on the Caldecott winning The Invention of Hugo CabretThe Seeing Stick was reissued with new illustrations by Daniela J. Terrazini in 2009. I have not seen Charlip's version, but Terrazini's is a beautiful work of art and the book itself is yet another magnificently packaged book published by Running Press, the house that brought us Steven Arntson's The Wikkeling, yet another superbly and uniquely packaged children's book with artwork by Terrazini. Interestingly, both The Wikkeling and The Seeing Stick were designed by Frances J Soo Ping Chow.

The Seeing Stick begins, "Once in the ancient walled citadel of Peking there l…