Feel like standing around with a big, goofy grin on your face? Then I suggest you get your hands on Kevin Henkes’ Caldecott and Geisel Honor book, “Waiting”. We read it together tonight, and my goofy grin is still plastered on my face as I write.
The story centers on five little toys and their life on the windowsill of what I assume is a small child’s room. Like many small children, these toys spend most of their lives waiting. However, these toys don’t show the same restlessness of a small child waiting…for a parent to read to them or take them to the park…for the weather to clear up…for Christmas morning to arrive…. The toys on the windowsill are waiting with a peaceful expectation – waiting to see what will happen next and knowing from experience that something always does. Other toys come and go from the sill, someone leaves them gifts (an acorn from the yard, a shell from the beach), they wait and watch, and sometimes they sleep. All the while, just outside the window are “…many wonderful, interesting things…”: changing seasons, colorful rainbows, dramatic thunder storms, sparkling fireworks, dazzling ice crystals, familiar shapes in the clouds, and the moon “…to keep them happy”.
“Waiting” is a sweet, simple book, and it’s no exaggeration to say that we absolutely adore it. The text and drawings are precise but poetic and remarkably expressive – hallmarks of Mr. Henkes’ style. There are several illustrations with no text, but enough of a story taking place on each that we may have spent more time discussing the pictures and expressions on the pages where there was no reading to be done. The way in which the toys are moved around, laid down, and presented with gifts reminded us of watching our youngest arrange and rearrange her own toy animals along shelves and windowsills at our house.
Perhaps the most grin-inspiring page comes close to the end of the book just after a matryoshka cat with patches joins our contented quintet. They look her over and ask themselves, what could she be waiting for? She doesn’t seem to be waiting for anything in particular…until you turn the page to find out “Oh, but she was!” – four nesting kittens have been hiding inside her. There is something about that “Oh, but she was!” that made us laugh out loud. We are dorks.
If you don’t believe me regarding the dork comment…let me tell you this: one of the reasons we decided to include this book on our list originally was the fact that…wait for it…the animals on the windowsill come in groupings of five! Grouping is a basic math concept and a key component of early math learning for young children. Not only are there five animals on the sill originally, but their new nesting friend adds another grouping of five – and the grouping concept is reinforced by the way in which the animals are positioned on the sill. The book ends with “Now, there were ten of them. And they were happy together, waiting to see what would happen next.”
(I told you. Dorks.)