Written and Illustrated by Kevin Henkes
Greenwillow Books, 2015
Awards: Caldecott Honor
There were five of them. And they were waiting…
The plot in a nutshell: Five toys spend life on the windowsill.
The owl waits for the moon and when it comes up, he is happy. The pig with the umbrella is waiting for rain, since he’s prepared for it. The bear with the kite waits for wind to blow his kite around. The puppy with the sled is waiting for snow (and usually has to wait a long time). The rabbit just enjoys looking out the window. Not much happens to them, although sometimes gifts show up unexpectedly and for a short while they have a visitor, but mostly they just wait and watch the seasons change in the world outside. Then one day, a cat with patches shows up. She isn’t waiting for any of the same things that they’re waiting for and doesn’t seem to be waiting for anything specific. But then she pops open and a smaller cat comes out. A smaller cat comes out of that one and it continues until there are five cats. And they all wait together, to see what comes next.
Author/illustrator Kevin Henkes packs a lot of imagery in this story and in order to really appreciate it, you need to slow down and be as patient as the characters you’re reading about. Speed through this one and I think you’ll miss the whole point. Or maybe I should make that plural, as it feels as though this book has more than one place to focus. First of all, there are the things that each character is waiting for. The owl has it easy, since he is waiting for the moon, which comes up every night, pretty much guaranteed. The pig and the bear are waiting for wind and/or rain, which can whip up at lots of different times and strengths and stay for a wide variety of times. Poor Puppy is waiting for snow, which (depending on where they live) may only happen a few times a year. There’s the sense of a Zen message here in considering your focus in comparison with the focus of others.
There’s also the question of the status of these characters. Are they abandoned toys? Do they move on their own or does an unseen human hand move them around? Mr. Henkes doesn’t tell us these things, so we need to come to our own conclusions about them. He also doesn’t tell us much about Rabbit and we don’t know for sure how any of them feel about the sudden invasion of kittens at the end of the story. They are drawn very enigmatically, with no discernible expressions. His ink, watercolor and pencil artwork is soft and lovely, mostly showing us the characters looking out of the window where they sit. We can see what they see and it feels as though Mr. Henkes is asking us to wait with them, to see what they see and think about how we feel about it and examine how we feel about waiting in general. It’s somehow calming and hopeful and I really enjoyed it.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that there are lots of things in life we have to wait for and if we can learn to wait patiently and pass the time, it makes the waiting part easier.