From time to time you discover an author that just gets it. In adult literature, the books very often have nothing to do with each other. In children’s literature, however, when an author has multiple books they are often a part of a series – Madeline, Magic School Bus, Ramona, Magic Treehouse, etc. Recently, we have found an author who manages to write a plethora of marvelous kids books that can all stand alone – Kevin Henkes.
Our first experience with Henkes’s books was a few years ago with Wemberly Worried. I’m not sure what prompted my parents to buy this book for J, but we loved it.
The story is about a young mouse girl who worries about everything, big, little and in between. When the time comes for her to go to nursery school for the first time, she worries even more: “What if no one else has spots? What if no one else wears stripes? What if no one else brings a doll? What if the teacher is mean? What if the room smells bad?” Her teacher puts her with another worrier and together they get through it and realize the worrying is taking away from their ability to just have fun. It’s a very sweet book with a lovely lesson, especially for children entering school for the first time.
Then recently we finally picked up Chrysanthemum. Honestly, while reading the book, we had no idea that they were written by the same person. Chrysanthemum is a marvelous book about loving who you are. It is also a book about bullying. Chrysanthemum is a little mouse who, until going to kindergarten, always thought that she had the most wonderful name in the world. When she arrives in school the other children all have short names and a trio of other little girls make fun of her. When they do, she wilts. Her parents try to cheer her up and comfort her “with hugs, kisses, and Parcheesi.” At the end of the book, when she is nearly at her wits’ end, they meet the school music teacher, Mrs. Twinkle. Everyone loves her and seek her adoration. When the bullying group tell Mrs. Twinkle all of the reasons that they torment Chrysanthemum, Mrs. Twinkle informs them that she is also named after a flower and that she has a long name. When they realize that someone as amazing as Mrs. Twinkle has an unusual name, they change their tune with Chrysanthemum. In the end, Chrysanthemum realizes that she is just perfect the way she is.
So how did we realize these were both by the same author? We were at the library looking for another book that I had heard of called Sheila Rae, the Brave. When I went to get it from the bookshelf, lo and behold, it was right next to the other two books! As the book’s description says – “Sheila Rae is not afraid of anything. She walks backwards with her eyes closed, steps on every crack, growls at stray dogs, and bares her teeth at stray cats. But when Sheila Rae becomes lost on the way home from school, it is her “scaredy cat” sister, Louise, who shows her a thing or two about bravery and sibling love.” Sheila Rae is a great book about being brave and about love between two sisters, which is a perfect mix in our house! Every child can benefit from her mantra “I am brave. I am fearless.”