Monday, September 15, 2014

‘Kitten’s First Full Moon’ by Kevin Henkes

The picture book Kitten's First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes is propped up, its front cover facing forward, with my black cat Starfire sitting behind it.
My cat Starfire with Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes
For my course in children’s literature this week, we were to read and respond to a Caldecott Medal winner or Honor Book. The award is given annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.

My selection was the 2005 medal winner, Kitten’s First Full Moon, written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow Books/HarperCollinsPublishers). And a photo of Starfire wasn’t specifically part of the assignment, but I couldn’t resist propping the book in front of her and including her in a photo of the book that I was required to post with my response for the class.

A kitten mistakes the full moon for a bowl of milk. In her efforts to obtain it, she ventures off her porch and into the nighttime landscape but the “bowl of milk” in the sky remains beyond her reach. Finally, she ventures home discouraged, where a surprise is waiting for her.

Author and illustrator Kevin Henkes uses a non-realistic style of stark contrasts: bold black lines against white, with subtle gray-brown shadings. In a mini-video for, Henkes said that from the very beginning he knew he wanted a black and white book, and that he wanted it to have a “rich, velvety look.” He also said he knew he wanted the book to be square, for the perfection of the shape.

Publication information beneath the title on the right side of a two-page spread identifies gouache and colored pencil as the media used by Henkes. In my opinion, Henkes’ choice of media are very appropriate for the story. Produced in this style, the moon indeed looks like a big round bowl of milk.

The predominant design element is the round moon. Thumbnail images of the moon are repeated on the book’s endpapers. The moon appears on nearly every interior page, always out of Kitten’s reach. And its circular shape is mirrored in other elements that make up the illustrations: the round glow of fireflies and diagonal circles that form flowers.

In his interview, Henkes said the book came out of a concept book about circles. A line in the book really stuck with him, about a kitten mistaking the moon for a bowl of milk.

I chose this Caldecott Medal-winning book because the subject and pictures appealed to me: an adorable kitten relating to the world in terms of what she knows. I would definitely recommend the book as an enjoyable story with wonderful, evocative illustrations that convey the kitten’s personality.

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