In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The inner life

Dear Annie,

Returning briefly to Brian Selznick, author of Wonderstruck (and many more): BEA has put up a video of his speech here.  I strongly recommend skipping the first five minutes and starting with his reading from the book. 

Today I thought I'd mention another speaker from that lovely breakfast: Kevin Henkes (pronounced with two syllables).  We've both written about him, here, here and here.   His youngest picture books are gentle and sweet; his older mouse picture books are full of personality.  And his middle-grade chapter books are a bit uneven, although I'm about to mention a new one which I like a lot.

Henkes spoke about Little White Rabbit, and the care, skill and thought that goes into creating an apparently simple book.

The video  is an interview with him about it.  Little White Rabbit is hopping along and wondering what it would be like to be as tall as the trees, as green as the grass, as still as a stone, etc.  One of the themes that Henkes says he keeps coming back to is "children absorbed by the inner life."  Little White Rabbit is by himself, observing the world and wondering about it.

He read a bit from his new chapter book, Junonia.  It's the story of turning-ten-year-old Alice, who's on a beach vacation with her parents.  Several old friends who planned to join them can't make it, and an unexpected guest brings his troubled six year-old daughter.  Alice spends a lot of time thinking on her own: some of it a bit dreamy, some angry and hurt.  Her reaction to the six year-old is a combination of trying very hard for empathy, but really not liking the child's self-centeredness.  Henkes does it all with a deft touch.  Alice longs to find a rare shell, the junonia. One always wonders how an author will handle desire for a longed-for object in middle-grade novels.  Do we get the satisfaction of discovery?  Do we learn from disappointment?  This ending brings in the longings of one of the adults in a lovely and unexpected way.  I really liked it.



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