Inside the front cover of My Garden, the new picture book by local author Kevin Henkes, the Library of Congress dryly catalogs it as "Gardens - Fiction."
That's an understatement. The wide-eyed, straw-hatted little girl in the book imagines a garden in which jellybean bushes flourish and flowers reappear immediately after being picked.
In real life, she helps her mother shoo away bunnies so they don't eat all the produce in the family garden. But in her fantasy world, she says, "The rabbits wouldn't eat the lettuce because the rabbits would be chocolate and I would eat them."
Nearly 30 years into his career as a writer and illustrator of picture books for the very young and fiction for young adults, Henkes is at the forefront of children's literature. He won the Caldecott Medal in 2005 for Kitten's First Full Moon, an elegantly understated picture book in which a kitten mistakes a full moon for a bowl of milk in the sky.
He's also beloved for the Lilly books (like Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse and Lilly's Big Day) about a spirited, cowboy-boot-wearing little mouse. In fact, Children's Theater of Madison is staging the theatrical adaptation of the former book this month.
While Kitten was done with black-and-white illustrations and My Garden is a riot of color, they share Henkes' trademark illustration style: strong, thick outlines softened by washes of color or shading.
Little ones will identify with the desire of the nameless girl in My Garden to impose her fanciful will on everyday reality. From plaid sunflowers to seashells growing from the ground to strawberries that glow at night, it's a beguiling world.
In his acceptance speech for the Caldecott Medal, Henkes began his remarks by saying, "The picture book texts I love most are those that are so succinct that not one word can be extracted and not one word need be added."
Henkes continues to live up to this axiom, with each full-page illustration faced by only two or three lines of text. While he makes it look easy, Henkes shows his intelligence in giving the story room to breathe. It's easy to imagine kids telling their parents what they'd add to an imaginary garden where anything is possible.