Alright guys, this is it. This is the moment that I tell all about how much Kevin Henkes has impacted my life. I think if most booksellers were honest, they would do the same. In our line of work there is always an author/illustrator that we have spoken to, or that we love, that really made a difference on who we are, or how we sell and recommend books. An author/illustrator that we would do anything for. One that no matter how old a child is, or what event it’s for, we will always try to sell customers their books. For me, this author is Mr. Kevin Henkes.
I was first introduced to Kevin’s work, when I was given, Julius, the Baby of the World, at my mom’s baby shower. Shout out to Ann G., my mom’s friend and my former Sunday School teacher, for starting this madness! My little brother was about to be born, and this was my first sibling book. Instantly, I fell in love with Kevin and his watercolor mice. My mom, being the amazing woman she is, started buying all of his books for me. If you look to the photoset above, you will see an OG picture of my mom reading Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse to some of my friends and me (I’m in the left hand corner). You will also see a photo of my copy, signed by Kevin! Note: if you look closely, you will also see the Merry Christmas note from my beautiful mom, in 1999. When I met Kevin (more on that later,) he said that he loved seeing books that were worn, ‘cause it proved that they had been loved (at the time, I had been embarrassed that it was so dirty and beat up).
From then on, he was always my favorite author, but I didn’t really have a chance to talk about it much, until I started working at Vroman’s. My coworkers and bosses indulged me by making sure I knew when any ARCs arrived, or if there was any new book news! I set up a “shrine” (jokingly) in the department, featuring all of his books, most of them which had hand drawn shelf talkers by me. I would recommend his stuff constantly as well. New baby? Try “Old Bear”. First time sibling? “Julius, the Baby of the World”, of course. Beginning reader? Try the “Penny” books! First day of School? Try “Wemberly Worried”! It went on and on…
The struggle came, when I found out that he didn’t really travel much and liked being with his family (which I totally understand). It furthered, when I realized that he had no social media, no email, etc. So many authors have Twitter or Facebook now, that having my favorite of all time, not have anything, kinda sucked. Hence, why I wrote him a couple letters. You can see one of them from 4 years ago, HERE.
Then, one day, fate was really good to me. My friend Alyson, told me that Kevin was going to be at ALA (Las Vegas, 2014). I wasn’t a librarian, but she said that that didn’t matter. She helped me buy my tickets for the Caldecott/Newbery dinner (Kevin Henkes had won an honor for, The Year of Billy Miller), and made sure i had everything I needed to be able to attend. She even let me room with her! Shout out to good friends!
I’m going to be honest here, 2014 was the beginning of a hard year for me. I had just broken up with a long-term boyfriend, and was trying to have all these new experiences to make up for it. One of the things that was on my to do list was ALA and meeting Kevin. The meeting was even better than I had hoped for. The first time I met him was at the Caldecott/Newbery dinner. I spotted his crew from across the room because they were all wearing blue, Year of Billy Miller hats (you can see one that I got from one of Aly’s friends, above). I was sitting next to my new friend Cathy, and she was urging me to go say hi. I remember being so scared and so nervous, but when he suddenly walked near our table, Cathy took me up to him and introduced me as his biggest fan (SO GREAT). He was gracious and kind, even though it was a quick meeting because the presentations were starting.
I met him again at his first signing (the next day?), and was wearing a Kevin Henkes Tshirt that my Grandma had bought for me online (thanks Grandma!). He commented on my shirt, we had the conversation about my Lilly book, and I got some pictures with him. The best part though, was when he signed my, Year of Billy Miller, book. If you look again at the photoset above, you will see that he added, “& it’s always the year of Jen”. This meant ALOT to me. I’m sure he wrote it on multiple people’s books that day, but because of it being a hard year for me, it just made everything perfect. It reinforced that 2014 was going to be okay, and that this author, that I looked up to, without him knowing it, helped pave the way for that.
Since then, I have gotten to meet him again at B.E.A. 2015 (which I won a scholarship to), and at the Charlotte Huck Festival 2016 (where I went to support Emily Arrow). We (Emily and I) even stayed up all night one night, so that she could write a song for Kevin’s, Waiting (more on that in an upcoming post). I could write so much more about why I love Kevin and his work, but I don’t want to sound like TOO much of a stalker. Just, if you have yet to see or buy Kevin’s books, PLEASE check them out. You won’t regret it. Maybe your child will have the same experience that I did. And Kevin, thank you and your mice, for being in my life since 1998, when my little buddy was born. I can’t thank you enough for the past 18 years. That being said, happy birthday to my little brother, who turns 18 on Monday.