Kevin Henkes' Chrysanthemum
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
The 2016 Caldecott Honor book Waiting violates any number of rules of good storytelling. But because the book is by the great Kevin Henkes, you know the author-illustrator must know he's breaking those rules...
And that he must have a reason.
The publisher summarizes the book as follows: "An owl, puppy, bear, rabbit, and pig wait for marvelous things to happen."
So it's not the plotline that compels. Among the rules Henkes breaks is the one that says, "Something's gotta happen." He breaks that one right along with the one that says there should be a single main character who's trying desperately to accomplish something.
These characters, as the title and the summary suggest, are simply... waiting.
The aforementioned characters are little figurines on a child's windowsill.
And the rabbit? Well, the rabbit just likes...waiting.
Of course, the things four of the five characters are waiting for eventually come, along with some unexpected things--much as in life.
And to my mind, life--or rather, the life of a child--is what Henkes's Waiting is all about.
Since children, much like these figurines, so often find themselves in the position of having to wait for adults to dictate what happens next, it seems to me that Henkes is attempting to put a positive spin on all that just sitting (or standing) there.
This is the book that speaks to the real lives of children: it isn't all going to wizard school and fighting crime and solving mysteries or even finding lost dogs.
No, much more time is spent between activities--time when it becomes easy to whine and complain and lament one's boredom.
What Henkes is doing is giving children (and their parents, who find it difficult to provide minute-to-minute entertainment) a kind of glass-half-full spin on all that time with practically nothing happening.
Pouting doesn't make the time pass any more quickly, so why not turn waiting into (though Henkes never uses the word) anticipating!
Then no grownup will have to scream, "Patience!"
Henkes uses ink, watercolors and colored pencil to depict this world of waiting, which takes place on this side of a big window, while the events for which the characters wait take place outside the glass.
Still, the greater meaning occurs--as it should--amongst the characters, who, despite their disparate interests, Henkes clearly depicts as valuing each other.
Consider letting Kevin Henkes help you put a positive spin on Waiting.
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