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
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.
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.
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."
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.