A Parade of Elephants by Kevin Henkes, AND Egg and A Good Day
My daughter, who is twenty-five now, was raised on Kevin Henkes's first wave Mouse Books, featuring Owen, Lily, Julius, Chrysanthemum, Chester and the inimitable Sheila Rae. In fact, we even had an interactive picture book CD-Rom of Sheila Rae Rae the Brave. These books, which are quite a bit longer than the bulk of picture books being published today, display one facet of Henkes's brilliance as a picture book author. As Bruce Handy writes in his excellent, expansive review of A Good Day for The New York Times, "Henkes's gift, or one of them, is that he retains a keen understanding of what those molehills look and feel like when you're small and powerless and everything around you is fresh, electric and, for the most part, inexplicable." Henkes is one of those rare authors who remember the emotions, not just the moments, of childhood, and can translate them into art. With his (longer) Mouse Books, which are rich with detail and humor, Henkes's takes the time to develop characters and show meaningful growth, creating unforgettable stories.
And, as he proves with his newest series of picture books that I think of as the Pastel Palette Series, Henkes is able to further distill these emotions into a handful of significant words and images that resonate deeply with kids and adults. Additionally, I pull these books off the shelf of my elementary school library often when I am working with a new, struggling reader. The words are simple and repetitious, the picture clues are marvelous and the books are completely engaging. While I read all these books out loud to classes often, I think they are truly best enjoyed one-on-one, with a little one snuggled in your lap.
A Parade of Elephants, Henkes's newest book, is perhaps the most playfully comforting of his Pastel Palette books. A parade of softly rounded, cheerfully pastel elephants march across the pages of this book with some counting and some concepts explored along the way. The true joy of the book is just watching the exploits of the elephants and wishing you could squeeze them. A small, poetically wonderful surprise toward the end of the book is a sweet signal that sleep is near.
egg is such a fun book to read with little kids. Three eggs hatch, but what about the fourth? Without giving too much away, I will leave you with the knowledge that it does not contain a bird... What egg does contain is Henkes's trademark gentleness, thoughtfulness and kindness, even in the midst of suspense and surprise.
A Good Day is one of my all-time, top five favorite picture books, both for the emotions explored, the joy that bursts off the page and the first line, which delights me every time I read it, which has been close to 100. A Good Day begins, "It was a bad day. . . "
Little yellow bird loses his best tail feather. Little white dog gets her leash tangled in the fence. Then the story escalates. Little orange fox can't find his mother. And little brown squirrel loses her nut. But then . . . A Good Day takes a turn and turns into a truly good day, guaranteed to make you smile and maybe even shed a little tear. If you ever find yourself having to talk about mindset with a child, this book is THE place to start!
I reviewed Waiting when it came out in 2015. It both fits in and stands out from the Pastel Palette. Waiting is Henkes's acknowledgment of something that kids do A LOT OF and also a gift in that he presents it in a way that takes the negative spin off of it.
Toys on a windowsill wait, each one waiting for something different, while one waits for nothing in particular at all. And each toy representing an aspect of the imaginative play that is so developmentally meaningful in a child's life. As they wait, the view out the window shows the changing of the seasons, the passing of time and the small moments that add up, turning us into the people we are.
While I think that every child should have the gift of growing up with all of Kevin Henkes's books, if s/he could only have a few, I would say, read these four, early and often.