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Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

Page history last edited by Leah McCombs 9 years, 5 months ago


Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

Book Review by: Leah McCombs


Product Image Chrysanthemum (Paperback)



 Plot Summary


In Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes, the parents of a young mouse want their daughter’s name to reflect the beauty and perfection they see in her, so they decide to name her after the beautiful flower, Chrysanthemum. As Chrysanthemum grows older, she learns to love the uniqueness and beauty of the name; however, when her classmates tease her for having such a long and uncommon name after a flower on the first day of school, Chrysanthemum no longer views her name as a special blessing but a curse. Every day the children make fun of her and she runs home crying to her parents about the troubles she experiences in school. Chrysanthemum’s parents console her, but they always remind her, “It’s everything you are […] absolutely perfect” (pg 11).


It is not until Chrysanthemum and her classmates discover that their beloved music teacher, Mrs. Twinkle, is named after a flower that contains many letters as well that everyone, including Chrysanthemum, truly appreciates the rare beauty in such a unique name. Delphinium Twinkle even goes on to say that she plans on naming her baby Chrysanthemum. After the children hear this they all want to have names after flowers, and Chrysanthemum finally realizes that her name is beautiful and perfect because it is unique.


Textual Elements


This book is classified as a modern fantasy picturebook because the themes and obstacles Chrysanthemum faces can be found in the real world with school-aged children; however, the fact that the characters depicted in the story are mice makes it a fantasy. The pictures work with the text –expanding on a certain emotion or enhancing the meaning of the text. The genre is modern fantasy because although the idea of mice going to school, acting like people, and talking is not realistic, the setting in which the story is told can be found in the real world. Every child has experienced a school environment and the pressures found within them. The story is told from an omniscient point of view like most fantasies in order to truly capture the emotions of the main character and tell the story in a non-biased manner. Some common themes that Chrysanthemum deals with are overcoming differences, bullying in school, and self-esteem issues. This picturebook is easy for children to relate to because they have all either witnessed or personally experienced teasing and bullying by their classmates. Chrysanthemum provides a common setting with relatable character personalities each child can think about on a deeper level. As students read this picturebook, they can think about what the story’s main message is trying to teach them about their own lives. In this fashion, differences among children are to be seen as beautiful qualities that should be celebrated, not criticized. Furthermore, the idea of finding a child’s self-image and being confident in that image is reiterated throughout the book in hidden messages when the father is seen reading books like “The Inner Mouse Vol. 1 Childhood Anxiety” and “A Rose by Any Other Name…Understanding Identity” in order to learn how to best console his weeping daughter.

Chrysanthemum also employs certain literary elements in order to add to the overall meaning of the story. For example, whenever the narrator describes Chrysanthemum as embarrassed or sad, the narrator uses the phrase “Chrysanthemum wilted” (pg. 8). Henkes uses the word “wilted” in order to show that the children teased her so much about being an actual flower and having such a peculiar name that she slowly accepted there disapproving words. By using the word “wilted” it is almost as if Chrysanthemum has succumbed to this notion of being a silly flower.


Artistic Elements


The pictures throughout the entire story are crucial to the meaning of the book. Henkes uses beautiful watercolors to illustrate each page in order to contribute to the soft, whimsical feel that parallels Chrysanthemum’s personality. The use of several sequential panels on page 3, symbolizes the different sequential stages in Chrysanthemum’s early childhood. She is depicted doing normal activities that many children would be doing at that particular age.


The careful attention to how each character’s facial expression is drawn is crucial to the meaning as well. When the rest of Chrysanthemum’s classmates are teasing and laughing at her (pg. 15) their faces are drawn in a sly and menacing manner –often times covering their mouths as they snicker, pointing at Chrysanthemum, or having narrow eyes when staring at Chrysanthemum. In fact the facial expression and physical body language of each character in a picture defines the story so that words are truly not even necessary.


Henkes repeats this method of showing how life progresses or a single emotion can blossom through the different sequential panels on page 27.  Each panel accurately illustrates the feeling of happiness and self-confidence as Chrysanthemum is described by, “She blushed. She beamed. She bloomed. Chrysanthemum, Chrysanthemum, Chrysanthemum” (pg. 27).

The use of bright, warm colors throughout the story also plays off the idea of the vibrant colors found during spring and summer times when flowers are blooming. On the title cover, the little mouse, Chrysanthemum, is shown holding onto a large Chrysanthemum flower. With bright watercolors and the curving of the title around the flower, the reader is naturally drawn to its soft beauty and uniqueness.


Analysis and Critique


Kevin Henkes’ Chrysanthemum was the first picture book I could read with challenging words by myself. This book is very effective for young children first learning how to read because Henkes employs several challenging words for young readers like “scarcely” and “dreadful” (pg. 8). He also uses words like “winsome” and “absolutely” that can be difficult upon reading them for the first time. By including a wide range of vocabulary throughout the picturebook, Henkes teaches young readers how to use context clues and even the pictures to interpret the meaning of such words. Furthermore, Henkes creates a playful and whimsical tone through his repetition of the phrase, “Chrysanthemum, Chrysanthemum, Chrysanthemum” (pg.5). This repetition used throughout the picturebook draws young readers into the story and helps them connect to young chrysanthemum as a real character living a very similar life to their own. This sing-song playfulness of words also contributes to the author’s voice as he casts Chrysanthemum in a light-hearted and unique light. In this way, the utilization of challenging vocabulary and melodic repetition contributes to its literary effectiveness. For more information on the author, Kevin Henkes, visit his home page at www.kevinhenkes.com/young.asp


Henkes’ illustrations throughout the book also prove effective in a couple ways. Henkes shows Chrysanthemum and other characters doing very normal actions in each picture that many children can identify. For example, on page 3 Chrysanthemum is shown several times in different panels to represent different stages of her early childhood. In each picture, although she is a mouse, she is doing very common activities that most children can identify with or connect to. Furthermore, on page 15 the way in which Chrysanthemum’s classmates make fun of her on the playground is very effective because each character’s facial expression corresponds to the human emotion being represented –be it embarrassment from Chrysanthemum, snickering from Rita and Jo, or cruel teasing from Victoria. In this way, Henkes’ depiction of human emotions and realistic events and activities in a child’s life contributes to its artistic effectiveness.


The perspective of the story is told through an omniscient point of view in order to reveal all inner emotions and capture the true sense of a child struggling to fit in and find acceptance among her classmates. In this way, Chrysanthemum has tremendous social relevancy because every child can identify with the hardships of fitting in because of his or her individual differences. The universal themes of respecting and celebrating  each other’s differences, not teasing others because of their difference, and staying true to yourself are all important ideas that young children must battle and learn in their early years of schooling. As future teachers, we must teach our students about respecting and celebrating these differences and finding ways to see things from others perspectives. At the website www.teachers.net/lessons/posts/2344.html, they provide several different lesson plans teachers can use to apply the themes and ideas that Chrysanthemum presents after reading, such as assigning a homework that has the children ask their parents where their name came from and why it is unique.  Personally, the themes of this book really hit home with me as a child because I felt embarrassed for not being able to read like my classmates could in first grade. I could identify with Chrysanthemum’s feelings of embarrassment; however, after I could read this entire picturebook by myself and understand the theme of the book, I felt the same joy and self-confidence that Chrysanthemum did at the end of the story. Overall, I think Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes can speak to a wide variety of children because of its ability to connect every child with one principle: We are all unique.




Henkes, Kevin. Chrysanthemum. New York: Greenwillow Books, 1991.


"Lesson Plans: Chrysanthemum Compiled Ideas from Four Blocks Ring (Elementary, 4 Blocks)." Teachers.Net - TEACHERS - Education Resources, Teacher Chat, Lesson Plans, Teaching Jobs. Web. 11 Dec. 2010. <http://teachers.net/lessons/posts/2344.html>.


"Welcome to KevinHenkes.com." Kevin Henkes. Web. 12 Dec. 2010. <http://www.kevinhenkes.com/young.asp>.






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