A Parade of Elephants, illustrated and written by Kevin Henkes, published by Greenwillow Books (an imprint of HarperCollins), ISBN: 978-0062668271. ARC reviewed, to be released: September 25, 2018.
Winter Is Here, illustrated by Laura Dronzek, written by Kevin Henkes, published by Greenwillow Books (an imprint of HarperCollins), ISBN: 978-0062747181, ARC reviewed, to be released: October 30, 2018.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of watching that lovely documentary about Fred Rogers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, please do so now. Or, in honor of the great man himself, you can wait. Wait until DVD or Blu-Ray or until it inevitably streams. Waiting is good. Waiting builds character. In several great segments of the film, Fred demonstrates on his long-running classic TV program Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood how slowing things down can be good. He puts a turtle on the ground and the camera watches as the creature crawls across the sound stage. He puts on a timer and has the viewer watch one minute count down. The state of children’s television concerned Mister Rogers. The hyper slapstick, the bombastic advertisements. He found it all dehumanizing. So he did something about it, creating a TV show that celebrated patience. That celebrated waiting.
While looking at two new books written by picture book master Kevin Henkes, I realize that Henkes reminds me of Mister Rogers. In the best way possible. His books have a gentle spirit that ask children to pause and reflect. His illustrator wife and frequent collaborator Laura Dronzek also relishes in conveying the beauty of calmness, capturing little moments that may have otherwise gone unseen. This is most apparent in Henkes’ solo efforts Waiting and Egg, and in their collaboration Birds and in their quietly vibrant books about spring, autumn, and now winter (what happened to summer? Well, it does get a mention in When Spring Comes).
Winter Is Here practically asks to be read in hushed, falling snow tones. Henkes’ simple, direct sentences (“Winter is here./It’s everywhere”) have a wonder to them that matches Dronzek’s evocative art. The muted colors in the illustrations soothe the eye. She somehow manages to give the reader warm, cozy feelings even as we look at icicles dangling from houses and snow “sticking to the trees in clumps and curls.” Henkes brings some understated poetic flourishes to some of his lines (“Winter is reaching through the branches/and crouching in doorways”) and Dronzek responds with images that fill the senses. You can feel the wind ruffling the squirrels’ fur, the birds’ feathers. This meditation takes a bittersweet turn when Henkes reminds us “But Winter can be hard, too” and Dronzek shows a curious dog looking at leaves trapped under the ice in a pond. Yet even here there’s beauty: “The leaves underneath are like stars in glass.” The collaborators touch on how getting dressed in winter can take a long time in a series of drawings depicting a child putting on a LOT of winter clothes. I love the triumphant glow surrounding the kid when fully dressed. The winds can howl. And they remind us that winter “stays/and stays/and stays” until it “shrinks away bit by bit,” finally giving way to spring. The very best picture books take readers on a journey, and Winter Is Here makes the reader feel as if they experienced an entire season in one sitting.
Henkes’ solo offering A Parade of Elephants has a bit more of a rollicking spirit, but although the five pastel-colored beasts march about, the book still glimmers with a gentleness that invites reflective “aaaaahs” and “oooohs” from young children. Presented in the same square-like dimensions as the fun Egg, Parade serves that same preschool audience. It has a bold font and a clear design; thick borders surround the characters. It starts off as a counting book on a page divided into five rows. The row with the number “One” has one elephant, “Two” two elephants, and so on. A flip of the page reveals the quintet in a row, marching. And another flip of the page announces that it’s “A parade of elephants!” And let me say that they might be some of the most adorable elephants ever in a picture book: blue, yellow, lavender, green, pink, surrounded by butterflies, under a warm sun. Then they march in a circle and Henkes adds to the playfulness of the scene with the lines “Big and round/and round they are./Big and round/and round they go.” He then explores opposites in a clear fashion with the elephants going up and down hills, over a bridge and then under some trees. After an eventful journey, Henkes brings things to a quiet resolution with the elephants exhausted, yawing and stretching…and then in a magical moment that lifts the book up to a higher level they lift their trunks and trumpet. Stars pop out of their trunks, scatter, and then fill the skies. And quietly and surprisingly A Parade of Elephants becomes one of the strongest bedtime books of the year. Sigh, it’s so good.