Kevin Henkes, the award-wining author and illustrator of children’s books including “Kitten’s First Full Moon” and “Lilly’s Big Day” visited children at on Thursday morning.
“This morning my son was like “Oh, I can’t wait” — he was so excited, jumping up and down,” Annette Aspillaga, a parent at Long Ridge School said.
The class — a combined group of kindergartners and first graders — have been studying authors throughout the year and creating artwork related to the subject. A mural based on “Kitten’s First Full Moon” lined one wall, the class had also created book covers for some of Henkes’ titles and designed paper purple purses for his popular character, Lilly the mouse.
““Little White Rabbit” is my 42nd book,” Henkes told the class. “I’d like to share “Little White Rabbit” with you today, tell you how I wrote it, how I made it, and after that I’ll draw for you, and after that, you can ask questions.”
After reading them the story, Henkes showed the group artwork that he made when he was eight years old and talked about the process of writing a book. He showed them sheets of paper with early drafts and how the scribbles slowly evolved into the book they saw in their classroom.
“If a picture book is good, it will be read again and again, so I read it aloud again and again to myself, to my dog, to my cat,” Henkes said. “I make sure it sounds good.”
Henkes likes to incorporate things into his books that no one would notice unless he let them in on the secret. In “Little White Rabbit,” the secret is that if you were to string all of the pictures in the book together, the rabbit would appear to be hopping. Henkes unfolded the taped-together illustrations to demonstrate.
Henkes used a dry-erase marker on large sheets of paper to quickly sketch some of his characters. Echoes of “How did you do that?” rippled through the crowd as the characters came to life in seconds on the page.
“I used to think I chose to be an illustrator, but I think it chose me…there was never a time I didn’t love to draw and paint,” Henkes said. “I think of it like having brown hair or being tall or short, I draw and paint.”
He talked with the group about the tools he uses to create his illustration — watercolors, markers, and black ink. His Caldecott winner “Kitten’s First Full Moon” was done all in black and white.
“When I’m using watercolor paints, I keep my water in a red Imperial Margarine container that I’ve had since the fourth grade,” Henkes laughed. “I’m superstitious and I worry about losing it.”
Henkes took questions from the children and listened as they told him about their gardens and about other authors they had met. In addition to answering questions about his books and characters, Henkes responded to a few less-orthodox questions, telling the children that he is right-handed, his dog’s name is Molly, and his favorite letter is probably “K” for Kevin.
Before signing books for the children, Henkes left them with a simple message.
“When I was your age, I thought that if someone was an artist, they painted masterpiece every time, or that writers just sat down and wrote a book,” he said. “Even though I’ve done this for 30 years, I still cross things out, I still make mistakes, and I still have to go back and do it again.”