Chrysanthemum Review

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If you were to single out the one picture book author that most successfully puts their finger on the pulse of children's hopes and fears, the award for Greatest Long-Distance Therapist would go to none other than Kevin Henkes. I am a huge fan of "Lily's Purple Plastic Purse" and I found a great deal of enjoyment in "Owen" (though I feel it's not his strongest work). Even "Wemberly Worried" covers a lot of ground by directly confronting the fears of worrywarts everywhere. With "Chrysanthemum", Henkes discusses originality and how being different (even if you're different in name alone) can single you out in both good and bad ways. As a Henkes fan, I consider this book to be amongst his strongest.

Chrysanthemum feels that her name is absolutely perfect. She likes how it looks and she likes how it sounds and she likes that it is her name alone. Everything's going great until Chrysanthemum starts school. Suddenly everyone's making fun of her name. She has a class full of Sams and Eves and Victorias. There doesn't seem to be a place for a girl with as wildly original a name as Chrysanthemum. One student in particular, Victoria, makes it her goal to continually ridicule poor little Chrysanthemum day in and day out. Talking about it with her parents helps a little, but the next day the same thing occurs. It seems that Chrysanthemum is doomed to be unhappy until she meets the music teacher Mrs. Twinkle. Mrs. Delphinium Twinkle. And suddenly everything in Chrysanthemum's life is a whole lot better.

I liked the moral of this lesson and the way in which Chrysanthemum learns that it's okay to be original. I also liked the epilogue in this tale wherein the leader of Chrysanthemum's tormentors abruptly forgets her lines in the school play and our little heroine is vindicated. Call me shallow, but I always enjoy it when the villains in a piece "get their's". This is probably indicative of a singular shallowness on my part. Just the same, the fact that the similarly tormented Molly of the children?s book, "Molly's Pilgrim" never receives any vindication has always bothered me. So kudos to Kevin Henkes for punishing the bad guys mildly! Hear hear!

There are other less personally petty things I like about this book too. I always love a good Henkesian drawing. I love that the parents in these tales are always caring, available, and attentive to their children's needs. In this book I was especially amused by Chrysanthemum's father running to child psychology texts (like "The Inner Mouse Vol. 1: Childhood Anxiety" and "A Rose By Any Other Name...Understanding Identity") to help his daughter. I loved the extraordinarily cool Mrs. Twinkle with her hugely pregnant stomach, ballet shoes, and tail that twists into a musical staff. I loved it all.

If you have a child being teased by fellow classmates for being a little off, this may not be THE best book to offer, but it's pretty darn good. Give it a shot and see what you think. If you love Henkes, you won't be disappointed.

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