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KEVIN HENKES

Born in Racine, Wisconsin, in 1960, Kevin Henkes always knew that he wanted to be an artist and writer. He was encouraged by his parents and siblings, and they often visited a local art museum. He enrolled at the University of Wisconsin at Madison to study art, and, during the summer after his freshman year, he went to New York in search of a publisher. Since he had heard a tape of a lecture by Greenwillow editor Susan Hirschman, and enjoyed her sense of humor and editorial expertise, he put her name on the list of editors to visit. Fortunately for children of all ages, Hirschman was impressed with his work and gave him a contract. His first book, All Alone, was published in 1981.
 

The main characters in his first four books are human, but Henkes soon found that the humor in his stories could be more effectively expressed using animals as characters. He introduced his distinctive mice in A Weekend With Wendell in 1986, and added Sheila Rae a year later. His cast of rodent characters now includes Chester, Wilson, Lilly, Chrysanthemum, Sophie, Julius, and Owen. Whether human or animal, the characters created by Kevin Henkes possess a spontaneous energy and share an enthusiastic exuberance for life.
 

Henkes' work is not limited to picture books. Urged by Hirschman to write longer stories, he has published several novels, including Words of Stone, Protecting Marie, Return to Sender, and Sun & Spoon. Although Henkes feels that he is more naturally an artist, he is starting to prefer writing. His novels tend to be more serious, while his picture books explore more humorous experiences. Even in his picture books, the writing comes first, and the pictures are added later. The ability to experiment with words and illustrations keeps his job interesting.
 

Both Henkes' picture books and novels have received enthusiastic reviews. A full page of the New York Times Book Review was dedicated to M.P. Dunleavey's review of Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse, where she observed, "Every once in a while - and in children's books, it's only once in a very great while - there is a book so delightful, so exuberant, honest, and evocative of the passionate life that children live as we look on, that one considers nailing a proclamation to the door of the local bookseller or wearing a copy around one's neck to advertise it. Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse ... is just such a book."
 

Susan Hirschman has nurtured Henkes' creative abilities over the past 18 years. Together, they have produced nearly thirty books for children and young adults. His books have appeared on the ALA Notables list and, in 1994, Owen received recognition as a Caldecott Honor book. While at the Book Festival, Henkes read the first chapter of his newest novel, The Birthday Room. Everyone who heard Henkes' personalized reading was eagerly awaiting its summer 1999 publication date. The Birthday Room has already received outstanding reviews from the Horn Book and Kirkus Reviews.

 

Contact:
The de Grummond Children's Literature Collection
Box 5148
Hattiesburg, MS 39406
(601) 266-4349
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