Kevin Henkes was born in 1960 in Racine, Wisconsin, and during his childhood often visited the local art museumthe Charles A. Wustum Museum of Fine Arts. Henkes was greatly inspired by these visits and by reading his favorite books. As a young child, he pored over books and was intrigued by their authors and illustrators.
In his senior year of high school, a public librarian introduced him to Barbara Bader's American Picturebooks from Noah's Ark to The Beast Within.
Henkes began college at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, choosing to go there in large part because of the School of Education's Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC). At the CCBC, Henkes learned about the history and future trajectory of children's literature. The July after his freshman year Henkes set off for New York, a ranked list of his favorite publishers in hand. His first stop was Greenwillow Books, headed at the time by its founder, Susan Hirschman. Hirschman signed him up on the spot, and Henkes took the fall semester off to work on a dummy book. The result was Henkes's first published picture book, All Alone (1981).
In 1986, Henkes's picture book profile grew a bit larger, thanks to the birth of some little mice in A Weekend with Wendell. Thirteen books featuring these mouse characters would follow, including the 1994 Owen, but the most famous of them is Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse. With the release of that book in 1996, Henkes gave the world of children's literature a memorable new addition to its roster of cherished characters; Lilly returned ten years later in Lilly's Big Day. With the introduction of Lilly, another star was born: Henkes himself was firmly established as an outstanding and inimitable contributor to the canon of children's literature.
In 2005, Kevin Henkes's picture book Kitten's First Full Moon was the winner of the Caldecott Medal. Henkes recently published his thirty-fifth picture book, Penny and Her Marble. He has also published twelve novels, including Words of Stone, which is especially meaningful to Henkes because this book was his first to elicit letters from older children and adults. His novel Olive's Ocean won a Newbery Honor in 2004, and his most recent novel for young readers, The Year of Billy Miller, won a Newbery Honor in 2014.
Indeed, the impact that Henkes has made in his impressive career was made official when the Association of Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, selected him to deliver the prestigious May Hill Arbuthnot Lecture in 2007. This is an honor given to "an individual who has made significant contributions to the field of children's literature." In 2013, the Catholic Library Association awarded Henkes the Regina Medal, celebrating his continued distinguished contribution to children's literature.
This biography was last updated on 08/10/2016.
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