My Rating: 5 stars
In our “hurry up” culture, waiting is so often associated with negative feelings, like impatience and worry. In the world of Waiting by Kevin Henkes, waiting feels more like reverence for the simpler things in life.
Five toy friends – the owl, the pig, the bear, the puppy and the rabbit – sit upon a child’s windowsill. They wait and watch for the things they love – the moon, the rain, the wind and the snow. And the rabbit simply loves watching out the window. While they wait, they see wondrous things, like rainbows and images in the clouds. The friends are sometimes separated, but they always return to their home where they are happy together. They lose a new friend to tragedy, but are in the end graced with another friend who is waiting for something special. When that something special arrives they are blessed with new friends to enjoy their windowsill home with.
The calming effect of Waiting is palpable. The waiting in the book doesn’t feel anxious. It feels more like waiting for those things in life that are always there for you, like a warm fire in the middle of winter or the warm sunshine on the first day of spring. Everything the toy friends wait for is either cyclical in nature or bound to happen at some point in the future, so the friends appear to have patience and faith that their favorite things will come around again. This is very different from the experience of waiting that most children and many adults have. It’s exactly this difference that makes the story worth reading again and again. It’s an introduction for children and a reminder for grown-ups that waiting doesn’t always have to be fraught with worry, fear and longing. The rabbit exudes the attitude best – watching and letting the world reveal its wonders can be enjoyable itself. You don’t even have to be waiting for something in particular. Simply being in the world in the here and now is its own reward.
It always amazes me how much emotion can be shown with the simple change in expression on the face of a character. Henkes, of course, masters this with the subtle changes of the toy characters whose home is always the same, but with a backdrop that is always changing. This is most poignant in the four pages with the toys observing the rainbow, the lightning, the snow storm and the fireworks. The wonder, fear, awe and enjoyment are portrayed with great skill. The feelings are familiar, and they jump off the page into your heart.
Waiting is thought of as a book about friends, but I see this as a book about family. The ending especially drives this home. These friends are a family enjoying each other’s company as they each experience the world in their own unique way.
Kevin Henkes has offered the world many great works of children’s fiction. What’s your favorite? Let me know in the comments section.
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