Each month, we ask one distinguished author or illustrator to write an original post that reveals insights about their process and craft. Enjoy!
Kevin Henkes on Little White Rabbit
by Kevin Henkes
By now I’ve written a number of books and have enough distance from them, to see patterns emerge. Looking back, I’ve realized that so many of the children (or mice or other animals) who populate my work use imagination—as play, as an escape, as a tool.
Imagination is a theme I’ve returned to again and again. It is a theme that has been with me from the very beginning of my career, starting with my first book, All Alone (Greenwillow 1981). Little White Rabbit (Greenwillow 2011), my forty-second title, is no exception.
Little white rabbit is essentially a curious child with a rich interior life. While hopping along, little white rabbit imagines. He imagines what it would be like to be green (like the grass). He imagines what it would be like to be tall (like the trees). He imagines what it would be like not to be able to move (like a rock), and what it would be like to flutter through the air (like butterflies).
I wanted his imaginings to be grand—hence, I drew four wordless spreads depicting them. But I wanted their origins to be of the here and now. That’s why I chose grass, trees, a rock, and butterflies to be the things and creatures that inspire him.
I structured the sequence of little white rabbit’s imaginings to underscore and enhance the idea of hopping. The focus of the four episodes moves from down, to up, to down, to up, mimicking the motion of hopping: from grass (low), to trees (high), to a rock (low), to butterflies in flight (high).
Illustrations © 2011 by Kevin Henkes, courtesy of Greenwillow Books
Ordering the story in this way was deliberate. It was one of those choices that felt right when I’d made it, as if I’d found a puzzle piece that fit properly. There is always that search for the perfect image to represent the ideas contained in the words, the image that will heighten the ideas, and advance them.
It wasn’t until I had finished the art for Little White Rabbit that I made an interesting discovery. Little White Rabbit is essentially the same story as All Alone, my first book. I told that story again in a new, different way, approximately thirty years later.
It has been said that writers have one story to tell and that we just keep weaving it from various angles with different threads. This may or may not be true; assessments like that are easier for someone other than the writer to make. But I know I’m drawn to certain themes. I return to imagination again and again.
Find discussion questions and activities in this comprehensive Book Guide for Little White Rabbit.