I’ve been a fan of Kevin Henkes’s “thick line” books ever since the first one came out — Kitten’s First Full Moon, the year I was on Caldecott. All of these books work well with very young children and have a timeless feeling, as if Henkes was channeling the spirit of Margaret Wise Brown when he wrote the texts.
The art, though, is completely his. I think no one does “cozy” like Henkes, but he keeps the art child-centered and never settles for nostalgia, which would seem to be the easy (and wrong) choice. The minimalist features might look quick and easy to draw, but the precise placement of of eyes, nose, mouth, and ears show the reader exactly what each character is feeling.
I like that this book is following Tweak Tweak in our discussion because while the stories are similar, the art couldn’t be more different. Both books involve a young animal wondering about his or her place in the larger world, both include fantasy spreads in which the animal changes (flies, grows larger, etc.), and both end back at home with satisfaction in their present lives. Henkes’s art is simpler than Ruzzier’s, and it’s also more lush. Repeated readings should keep adults from getting bored, too. For example, when Little White Rabbit hops over a rock and wonders what it would be like not to move, is Henkes giving us an homage to Sylvester and the Magic Pebble? And on the next page when we see the rabbit testing the idea of stillness (a wordless spread with four panels showing the rabbit unmoving through sunny morning, rain, sunset, and night), is it a coincidence that he is shaped just like a chocolate rabbit and colored brown in the last panel?
I love the design choices in this book, too. The use of small squares, large squares, and full spreads provides the perfect pacing. I also have to mention the use of bold green outline. In his other thick line books, the outline color tends to be dictated by an element in the text, often changing with each scene. Here, green is just part of the rabbit’s first query but Henkes keeps the color up throughout. He could have chosen brown or black to be more naturalistic, or he could have started with green and then switched around. But using green all the way through to the end is a great choice, extending the fantasy feeling and giving the entire book an outdoorsy openness. And I adore the way the typeface matches the art and the book’s tone. It’s a sturdy sans serif with cheeky upward curves in the Ds, the Ks, and the ligatures between F and I or L. And of course it’s green to match the outlines.
So what do you all think? As a past winner, Henkes will undoubtedly be on the committee’s radar. Could this little white rabbit have a little gold seal in its future?