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Caldecott Winning Illustrators Series: Kevin Henkes

By Adrienne Rivera. Jan 21, 2024. 5:15 AM.

Topics: Caldecott Medal, Children's Books, Newbery Award

Each year, the Caldecott Medal is awarded to an illustrator who best exemplifies the highest quality of children's book illustrations published the previous year. Today's illustrator has released picture books for readers from the youngest up to middle grade. Though Kevin Henkes often utilizes colorful illustrations for his books and a lyrical style, his 2004 Caldecott Winning book, Kitten and the Full Moon, breaks from his typical style and utilizes black and white illustrations and straightforward writing style for young readers. Join us today as we take a look at Henkes' career in our Caldecott Winning Illustrators Series:


Who is Kevin Henkes?
13892Kevin Henkes was born in 1960. From a very young age, he had wanted to be an artist but did not consider writing until a teacher told him he was a good writer during his junior year of high school. He pursued both while studying at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He achieved his goal at a young age, publishing his first picture book, All Alone, in 1981. Since then, he has published over fifty books, including picture books and novels for middle-grade readers. He is a Newbery Honor recipient, a Caldecott Honor recipient, the winner of the Caldecott Medal, and a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor recipient.


Where else have you heard of Henkes?

While one might think that a Caldecott winner would mostly, if not exclusively, write children’s picture books, that is not true for Henkes, throughout his career, Henkes has written twelve novels, including chapter books and books for middle-grade readers. His novels have earned him two Newbery Honors.


Examining Henkes’ Artistic Style

Henkes began his career with realistic depictions of people, as seen in his first book, All Alone. However, as he began to write books with more humor, he decided to transition to animal characters. Through trial and error, he settled on an illustration of a mouse, setting the stage for dozens of mouse books throughout his career. Henkes’ books start with a character and grow from there. He sketches out the entire book, then does pencil drawings, followed by ink, and then painting. The majority of his works are stylized animal drawings done with colorful paint. However, he occasionally deviates from this style, as seen in his black and white Caldecott-winning book, Kitten and the Full Moon.


Collecting Henkes

Kitten’s First Full Moon

Henkes’ Caldecott winning Kitten’s First Full Moon tells the story of a kitten who believes the full moon is a bowl of milk he wishes to drink. Completely black and white illustrations paired with a sans serif font make this book a stylistic and aesthetically adorable addition to any children’s bookshelf.

The Year of Billy Miller

Henkes’ 2014 Newbery Honor book, The Year of Billy Miller, is a chapter book that tells the story of Billy, who hits his head right before starting second grade. He overhears his parents talking about how they worry the bump on his head might attract negative attention from his peers and that he might end up being more forgetful due to his accident. Newly worried, Billy believes he isn’t good enough for second grade and has to work much harder than everyone else to make it ideal for chapter book readers.

Olive’s Ocean

The Newbury Honor-winning Olive’s Ocean tells the story of Martha, whose classmate Olive isolives ocean killed in a hit-and-run. Martha doesn’t know Olive well, but after her death, Olive’s mother gives her a page from Olive’s journal where she always admires Martha because they share a dream of becoming a writer, and she believes they could have been good friends. Martha goes to Wisconsin to visit her grandmother, carrying Olive’s unrealized writing dreams with her, and dedicates her summer to writing a story for Olive, though her struggles with her family and romance cause her to abandon the plan eventually. This is a moving story about grief growing up and missed opportunities.


Published in 1991, Chrysanthemum tells the story of a young mouse who loves her name until a group of more conventionally named girls at her school make fun of her for it. She cries to her parents, who comfort and reassure her. When Chrysanthemum is given the part of a daisy in the school play, her classmates tease her again, but her teacher, whose first name is Delphinium, after another flower, comes to her rescue, and the girls apologize. This charming book touches on important childhood themes and showcases Henkes’ propensity for mouse protagonists.

 Browse Caldecott Winners

Adrienne Rivera
Adrienne Rivera received her MFA in fiction from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. She currently lives in southern Indiana.


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