Friday, September 2, 2011

The Journey Leads You Home, Kitten—a review of Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes

Kitten spies the moon, which she mistakes for a bowl of milk, just waiting up in the sky.  Try as she might, leaping and running, down sidewalks, through gardens, past fields, kitten just can’t get that bowl of milk.  After many missteps and mishaps, Poor Kitten gives up her relentless pursuit.   Returning home with an empty tummy, what should Kitten find? A bowl of milk, “just waiting for her.”

Kitten's First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes

Teaching the simplest concepts requires the most skill.  Lucky us! Kevin Henkes is skilled.  In Kitten’s circular narrative, Henkes manages to capture the essence of toddler life, from wonder and amazement to venturing out a bit too far to being wet, sad, tired, hungry and scared to returning home, a place of comfort and security.  The text, set in a very readable 22 pt. Gill Sans Extra Bold which reminds me of the texts found in many ABC books, moves us forward through the narrative, but it also repeats important phrases.  The phrase “just waiting” is repeated three times, until the turn “just waiting for her” when Kitten finally gets her milk.  The phrase “Poor Kitten” is repeated five times until, at last, she becomes “Lucky Kitten.”  The final turns of phrase are satisfying.  Writing like this is perfect for toddlers as it teaches them to anticipate and predict and the concept of cause and effect.  Also identifiable to toddlers are the emotions Kitten experiences along the way.  She is wet, sad, tired, hungry and scared—all things toddlers can easily relate to, especially when they begin to explore the unfamiliar.  Finally, without drawing a mommy cat or daddy cat, Henkes still manages to complete the narrative and portray Kitten’s utter sense of comfort and relief when she returns home to find her own bowl of milk.  This all takes place in a reading time of approximately 2 ½ minutes, which is about all the time you have with a toddler.

Henkes uses gouache and colored pencil to create illustrations that resonate within the book and with the narrative.  His repeated use of the circular motif, started on the cover and continued throughout the book in the moon, in the landscape, in Kitten’s eyes, and in the pond and its ripples, reinforces a shape that is probably the first shape toddlers can identify—the circle.  There are several spreads that repeat circles in various sizes and would be fun to point out to young children.  Perhaps most endearing are Kitten’s expressions, which are all too human, especially when she stares directly at you from the page with those moon-like eyes of hers.  Those eyes, in stark black and white reminiscent of a Lamaze toy, catch a child’s attention and draw them into Kitten’s world where kid and Kitten connect.  The final two illustrations, which finally unite Kitten, moon and milk, portray the comfort and harmony every child should understand.

Awards and Reviews[1]

  • School Library Journal Best Book
  • New York Times Best Illustrated Book
  • New York Public Library's "One Hundred Titles for Reading and Sharing"
  • Caldecott Medal
  • ALA Notable Children’s Book
  • Bulletin Blue Ribbon (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books)
  • Texas 2X2 Reading List
  • Charlotte Zolotow Award
  • Book Sense Pick
  • Publishers Weekly Best Book

"The narrative and visual pacing will keep children entranced, and the determined young heroine and her comical quest will win them over."  Publishers Weekly

"The rhythmic text and delightful artwork ensure storytime success. Kids will surely applaud this cat's irrepressible spirit."  School Library Journal

"[A]rtful in its gracelessness and naivete, just like a kitten. Simply charming."  Kirkus Reviews

"'What a night!' Kitten concludes. What a picture book!" The Washington Post

Book Connections
If you like Kitten’s First Full Moon, you might also enjoy these classics:
  • Making the familiar comforting: Brown, Margaret Wise.  Goodnight, Moon. ISBN 978-0060775858.
  • Connecting with young readers: McCloskey, Robert. Make Way for Ducklings. ISBN 978-0670050178.

Teacher Connections
  • A lesson plan for teaching Counting can be found at Scholastic.  
  • A lesson plan for teaching Story Sequencing.
  • A lesson plan for teaching Phases of the Moon can be found via Alyse Passante at “Turn Off the TV.” 

Identifying Information
Henkes, Kevin. 2004. Kitten’s First Full Moon. Ill. by Kevin Henkes. New York, NY: Greenwillow. ISBN 978-006058821.

[1] Awards and Reviews gathered from Powell’s Bookstore online at  Accessed online September 1, 2011.

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