{book} chrysanthemum


DAY 20

Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

Greenwillow Books, 1991. Ages 4-8.

This picture book is easily among the 5 most read stories of Natalya’s early childhood, and we read a lot, even then. What makes a picture book that successful in our household? Several things, but a key ingredient is that I have to like it at least the same as N; otherwise the book gets lost somehow or the Library wanted it back immediately for some other needy child. Obviously this is before N could non-fake read.

“Chrysanthemum loves her name, until she starts going to school and the other children make fun of it.” –publisher summary.

Natasha was/is the most common slip with N’s name. Natalie was/is the second. For a long while she insisted that people just call her Nate. But Natalya having a less usual name and people struggling with the pronunciation, let alone the spelling, played a good part in why we had Chrysanthemum, but it was by no means the only reason. We’d picked up Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse first and decided to inhale every Kevin Henkes picture book available. It and Chrysanthemum made it into our home Library.

This is the kind of picture book that emphasizes a love of language and sets a high bar for the desire to have a picture book that reads as beautifully aloud. Chrysanthemum is rhythmic and charming, and Chrysanthemum does sound absolutely perfect. The repetitions in threes, the repetitions in lines, and even then N loved words.

Be prepared with this book, because you will have to sound as eloquent as Chrysanthemum’s parents when they are reassuring their daughter. And they are great parents. They try, and succeed, somewhat. For the benefit of the parents: the father is seen reading self-help books at the two different points in the story that makes me smile every time. But Chrysanthemum could use some support at school—and her teacher Mrs. Chud is of no help.

The illustrations are colorful and I am always pleasantly surprised at how much expression Henkes’ can get from his mice. The picture or sequence of pictures are illuminated by the text. And the lyrical aspect holds the listener’s attention, so taking time to savor the words, to pronounce them fully is a joy.

I love how smoothly the story is told. And the imagery the use of “wilts” evokes, and how it builds towards a lovely sequence where “She blushed. She beamed. She bloomed.” Sometimes we had to just skip to that Mrs. Twinkle part so N could savor it. She also liked the epilogue—probably somewhat uncharitably, because Chrysanthemum’s tormenter gets a comeuppance. And Victoria really is awful. She is very pointedly determined to make Chrysanthemum feel miserable, coming up with facts that cause her to think her name doesn’t always say the most complementary things about her. The two others constantly point out how Chrysanthemum doesn’t fit in with the rest. And this is hard on multiple levels; which is why the book has such longevity—Henkes taps on our deepening understanding. Our names mean a lot to us and we understand from early on that our identity is attached to it somehow. In Chrysanthemum, learning to love her name is akin to learning to love herself. And sometimes that love falters and needs bolstering.

Chrysanthemum is very sweet and cute and just a great story told very beautifully.


“This sensitive story will strike a chord with young children, particularly those who also have difficult or unfamiliar names.” School Library Journal (SLJ)

“Henkes’s language and humor are impeccably fresh, his cozy illustrations sensitive and funny, his little asides to adults an unobtrusive delight. Another winner from this perceptive artist.” Kirkus

“Perfectly executed in words and illustration. . . . Few illustrators write as well as they draw; Kevin Henkes demonstrates once again that he belongs to that select company.” Horn Book

{images belong to Kevin Henkes. Quotes found at SLJ’s A Fuse #8 Production’s own review.}

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