Review of the Day: A Good Day
A Good Day by Kevin Henkes. Greenwillow Books (an imprint of Harper Collins). $16.99
I don’t know why a person should even bother going ahead and reviewing a Kevin Henkes book. I mean, what am I going to tell you here that you don’t already know about the man? Uh, that he’s brilliant with simple texts? Yeah, I think the world is aware of that already. That he can give a visual approximation of anxiety in such a way that the kids reading the book are able to feel for the characters on a deeply intimate level? Again, no surprises. Still, here before me sits his newest book, “A Good Day”, and already I feel a deep and abiding affection for it. The average everyday children’s book reviewer doesn’t exist in this world simply to bring much deserved attention to new authors and artists (though that is one of the perks). They also bring much deserved attention to those books that may one day be deemed “classic”. And while I don’t know if “A Good Day” will ever be mentioned in hushed tones alongside “Goodnight Moon” and “Curious George”, I can say with absolute certainty that it will be loved and beloved by millions of children for decades and decades on end.
Usually this is the part where I summarize the story. This isn’t the easiest task when it comes to picture books, since the summarization sometimes exceeds the length of the story itself. This is definitely the case here. In this particular book, four animals are having a bad time of it. A squirrel has lost a nut, a fox her mother, a bird his feather, and a dog is tangled in her leash. “But then…”, the squirrel finds a bigger nut, the fox finds his mother, the dog works herself free, and the bird soars the highest she’s ever soared. To top it all off a little girl finds an absolutely perfect feather, and with all the happy animals situated nearby she runs into the house with a triumphant, “Mama! What a good day!” Told with big beautiful pictures, easy words, and a storyline that is simple to follow, the book comes across as an ultimately satisfying read.
I have always believed that it is far more difficult to create a simple book than a complicated one for kids. “Harold and the Purple Crayon” or “Madeline” look easy, but then you have to realize how important tone, wordplay, and memorable characters were to the storytelling process. When Henkes won the Caldecott for “Kitten’s First Full Moon”, the book was relying heavily on the simplicity of the story. “A Good Day” does the same thing, but it splits the narrative into five different tales. In both cases, Henkes creates anxious characters who extricate themselves from their pseudo-dire situations just in time for a satisfying ending. Heck, the book even comes up with a philosophical question appropriate for the Kindergarten set; mainly, what constitutes, “a good day”? If something bad happens in that day but you shrug it off, does that make the day better or worse? I’m not suggesting that reading this book to your children will lead them on the path of Kierkegaard and Derrida. It’s just nice to have a title where, after reading it, you can turn to the little one beside you and ask, “Do you think everyone had a good day?” Nothing wrong with a book that causes a little thinking once in a while.
Doesn’t hurt any that I personally feel that the art of Henkes is getting better all the time. While the “Lilly” books and older titles like “Jessica” relied on thin pen lines and small details, when Henkes skews younger he tends to thicken his lines and brighten his colors. Each act in this book is preceded by a multi-colored page of alternating rainbow stripes (which, if you look carefully, match the little girl’s shirt) alongside a second page that is all white except for the words, “It was a bad day...” or “But then...” Each animal is then presented with the characteristic big, white, worried eyeballs and furrowed brow. Colors are crisp and clear and when everyone reaches their own personal version of happiness Henkes knows better than anyone how to draw full-blown contentment.
But again, why should I even bother telling you this? If you know Henkes and you read Henkes then it wouldn’t matter if I said this book was akin to the lowest form of puss-filled pond scum. You’d brush off my comments and buy the book anyway because over the years you have grown to love and trust Kevin Henkes. Heaven help us all if the man ever comes up with a book that doesn’t knock our expectations clean out of the park. As it stands, this is a good book. Go and buy it and it will make a small child somewhere happy. Nuff said.
On shelves March 1, 2007.