Monthly Archives: March 2013

Meet Kevin Henkes, Children’s Book Writer and Illustrator

Mice who get worried, mice who are best friends, mice who are brave… Children’s book author and illustrator Kevin Henkes has nine adorable mouse characters with distinct personalities that he writes and paints into picture books about growing up.

ImageHenkes is expert at stepping into a child’s world and telling stories about life changing moments.  You can read about what happens when Owen wants to take his fuzzy yellow blanket to school. Read about how Penny finally shares a song she learned with her family. Find out why Chrysanthemum’s classmates think her name is funny and what happens in school. There are serious issues for young children and Henkes writes about many of them.

Based in Wisconsin, Henkes has been writing and illustrating books for more than 30 years. As he says on his website,, “It’s the only real job I’ve ever had.” Surprisingly, Henkes writes out his stories in longhand with a pen then types them up on a typewriter with a ribbon. He uses animal characters so he can “better tap the humor of the text.”

Mouse characters are just one of many types of books Henkes has created. His most recently published are picture books for very young children, such as “Little White Rabbit” and Caldecott winner “Kitten’s First Full Moon.” With these he distills the text down to the golden nugget of an idea and keeps the story very simplistic. Henkes says he has to be direct with the illustrations and he writes and rewrite until the rhythm of the text is just right.

Henkes also writes novels for young adults. He describes the process of writing longer books as using words to make shadow, light, and color instead of his paint. Titles include “Junonia,” “Bird Lake Moon,” and “Olive’s Ocean.”  In his novels he has one partial page of an illustration per chapter.

No matter what age he is writing for, his goal is to create “a book that is entertaining that a kid will love. 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. Without them, I might not be a writer and artist today.”

“Sometimes I’ll hear from a parent about how a book of mine has insinuated itself into the heart of his or her child, or how a phrase from one of my books has become part of the family’s daily jargon. I love that.”

Check out the selection of books by Kevin Henkes and see which resonate with your children. As Henkes says, “Expose our kids to books and art and nothing but good can come from it.”

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Make Your Home a Book Home

Do you live in a Book Home? Is your home filled with a love of reading, listening to stories and playing with words? Are books a part of every day? Does your child have a favorite book and a favorite time to hear books read aloud?

Before children are ready to read, they need lots of “lap time” – time sitting with a grown-up or older child listening to books read aloud. They also need time to look at books on their own, to be comfortable holding a book and turning pages, exploring at their own pace.

Children discover that there is a story inside each book, and pictures too! They learn new words and ideas, excitement and adventure, comfort and delight! Just listening to books, without knowing how to read themselves, children learn how to express themselves in words, how to think creatively and critically, how to ask questions and, children develop a longer attention span.

With all that goodness packed in children’s books, you’ll want to make your home into a Book Home – if it isn’t already!

Here are some suggestions:

  • Own some children’s books, but also borrow from the library or pick up used books at yard sales or a Bright Red Bookshelf (our children’s book re-use program).
  • Have books within reach of children. For baby, put board books in a basket on the floor next to the toys. For pre-schoolers, make sure books are on lower shelves where children can get them.
  • Stand some books up on a table or in the bookcase so their front cover is facing out and they are more noticeable.
  • Take photos of your child enjoying a book and put that picture on the refrigerator, in a photo album or in a picture frame.
  • Give books as gifts for special occasions like birthdays and holidays.
  • Let your children see you reading books, magazines, letters and emails.
  • Play with words! Sing nursery rhymes, say tongue twisters, make up silly word combinations with your child.
  • Talk to your child about the books you read together. Talk to your child about what you do together. Children learn words by hearing them and using them.
  • Do things with your child that you read about in children’s storybooks, like baking cookies, visiting a park, going for a walk. Relate the books you read to real life.
  • Read to your child every day!

Here are additional ideas about creating a Reading Nook in your house. 21 Blogs with Creative Ideas for Making a Reading Nook for Your KidsHave fun!

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Filed under book activites, family book traditions, family reading, read-aloud resources

Connect Children’s Books to Real Life

Bring books to life for your child by setting up experiences that connect a story you have read to the real world. By extending the book to include the sights, sounds, textures, smells, and tastes of real life, the written word and flat pictures in a book become a multidimensional and memorable experience.

Strega Nona You could read a book about food, such as “Strega Nona” by Tomie dePaola or “Blueberries for Sal” by Robert McClosky and then eat some spaghetti or blueberries. Read the book while you sample the food and the story will become an event that your child won’t forget.

You could read “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” by Mo Willems and then take a real bus ride; or read “The Jolly Postman” by Janet and Allan Ahlberg and then write and send a real letter to someone your child knows. (Grandma will love getting a personal note in the mail.)

“Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin” by Lloyd Moss, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman, introduces ten instruments in an orchestra, in rhyming text with illustrations that curve with the rhythm of the music. After reading this book you could find a free or low cost concert in your community or school that your child may enjoy. Make sure to point out the instruments that you have read about and listen to how each sounds.

Read “The Saturday Escape” by Daniel Mahoney and then visit your local library. There may be a story hour for you and your child to attend. And make sure to get a library card for each of your children so they can start the habit of checking out books they choose themselves.

Kevin and His Dad

After reading “Kevin and His Dad” or “Jonathon and His Mommy” both by Irene Smalls and illustrated by Michael Hays, your child may be more willing to help wash some dishes or do other chores around the house.

Read “The Salamander Room” by Ithaca author Anne Mazer, illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher, then visit your local nature center. How is the habitat of a salamander different from a rabbit or a bird or a frog?

When you read “I Spy, an Alphabet in Art” devised and selected by Lucy Micklethwait, you may get ideas for playing your own “I Spy” game. Or head up to the H.F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University and ask at the front desk for the “I Spy” game they have made for children visiting the museum. It’s free fun!

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Filed under book activites, children's books