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Penny and Her Song

penny and her songWell, between the election and storms of all sorts, it’s been a little difficult to concentrate, hasn’t it?

My focus is returning and I would like to turn my focus to a book for new readers. Books for new readers have a specific structure to help the new reader successfully negotiate the story. (Some of the characteristics are: The font is larger than normal; the illustrations tend to directly reflect the text; the sentences are shorter; the words are either commonly known or easily sounded out; sentences are never interrupted by a page turn.)

Kevin Henkes is completely in tune with the young readers who flock to his books. His vast talents range from illustrating nearly wordless books to writing novels for older children. Heck, his Olive’s Ocean even won him a Newbery Honor!

Penny and her Song came out earlier this year and readers were happy to see the mice again. Is it a picture book, which is essentially a visual experience?

Well, it is possible to read the pictures without the words. Henkes’s subtle eye and body movements allow the reader to know when Penny is sad or happy or simply pleased to be with her gentle parents and siblings. The music notes let the reader know that Penny is a girl with a tune to share. Every action referred to in the text is depicted in the illustrations and Penny’s personality is clear to the reader. White space helps the reader along and there is never any confusion about which words are next.

It’s a sweet story with art that we have come to expect from the very talented Henkes. Is it too simple? The committee will not be able to compare this to others works by Henkes, but, given what they already know of his earlier works, will this seem distinctive and distinguished?  Or will the Geisel committee be a better group to discuss this one?

Robin Smith About Robin Smith

Robin Smith is a second-grade teacher at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a reviewer for Kirkus and The Horn Book Magazine and has served on multiple award committees.



  1. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Do you think PENNY AND HER SONG and PENNY AND HER DOLL would split the Henkes vote? I imagine the same thing could happen to, say, Klassen with EXTRA YARN and THIS IS NOT MY HAT, but those are so different. I imagine this kind of thing comes in to play more on the Geisel committee? Willems and Macaulay also have two easy readers out this year.

  2. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    I wondered about this too.
    I have been on committees where more than one title by an author or illustrator was considered, but nothing like this year.
    At least two WIllems.
    Two books written by Philip C. Stead.
    Two books illustrated by Erin Stead (corrected)
    Three by Klassen, I think. (the Ted Kooser book, EXTRA YARN and THIS IS NOT MY HAT.
    Two by Matt Cordell

    That’s all I can think of off the top of my head.

    I have not idea how they will handle all of it. Is there a possibility of someone getting the award and an honor? Or two (or more??) honors?

    It boggles.

    I was on Geisel when Elephant and Piggy just started. There were, if I remember correctly, four books in that series released that year. How we ever came up with a winner is still a mystery to me. (and, of course, is a State secret)

  3. If there’s more than one book by the same author or illustrator under consideration, they can compare them since they are from the same year, right? Also, did you mean “Two books illustrated by Erin E. Stead”? I think Rebecca Stead has only written one this year–Liar and Spy.

  4. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    oops…just read Liar and Spy yesterday and had her on my brain. Of course, I mean Erin!
    Let me see if I can correct that.

  5. I am a big fan of Kevin Henkes. I think it’s fantastic that he is writing early readers, but I was disappointed by Penny and Her Song. I am still hopeful that Henkes will in the future write an early reader that I can recommend to kids right along with Willems’ Elephant and Piggie books and the Frog and Toad books. While I do not think Penny and Her Song is a Caldecott contender, I now wonder what other books are up for the Geisel this year.

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