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2016 Caldecott and Geisel Honor Winner: Waiting

2016 Caldecott Honor Winner
2016 Geisel Honor Winner
Written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes
Published by Greenwillow Books, 2015
ISBN #978-0-06-236843-0

Grades PreK and up

Book Review

“There were five of them. And they were waiting…” So begins acclaimed author/illustrator Kevin Henkes’ multiple award-winning picturebook. Waiting tells the story of five toys on a windowsill who wait patiently for something extraordinary to happen. And something extraordinary does happen  often and seldom, in the world outside the window and on the shelf next to them, in a split second and over the course of time, in the most spectacular and subtle ways. The story, of course, is an allegory of the kinds of waiting that consume much of a child’s world. Henkes is once again at his literary best, using uncomplicated language to evoke potent emotion and full imagery to make the quietness of waiting all that is needed to move the plot forward. Similarly, Henkes employs a soft, muted palette with his signature ink, watercolor, and colored pencils, which relay incredible breadth and depth of storytelling, especially across four wordless pages in the middle of the book. Together, text and illustration tap into a child’s world, showcasing the wonders that fill it, both big and small, and always offering the promise and excitement of something new to come.

Teaching Ideas and Invitations

  • Worth the Wait. Henkes’ quiet text conveys the important idea that some things are worth waiting for. What do your students consider to be worth waiting for? Have them brainstorm ideas and then write opinion, persuasive, and/or argument pieces about what they consider to be worth the wait. To help scaffold this activity, you might also read some other books about waiting or looking for something worthwhile, including Mo Willems’ Waiting is Not Easy!, Mac Barnett’s Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, Antoinette Portis’ Wait, books about waiting for a new sibling, even the few pages in Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go! that deal with waiting, and other books listed below in Further Explorations. Henkes’ book Birds, which his wife illustrated, also has a great two-page spread of watching (the birds on the line) and waiting for something to happen.
  • Noticing via Waiting (and other everyday gerunds). Amazing, yet seemingly insignificant or mundane, events happen while the five toys are waiting: a thunderstorm, a rainbow, the addition of new toys and trinkets beside them on the windowsill. Have students set aside a specific amount of time, either in class or at home, to wait. While waiting, have them use each of their senses to pay close attention to what’s happening around them (or within themselves) and write down or draw those details. Share them in class the next day. As a twist or extension, you might also have them try noticing what happens around them as they engage in other seemingly mundane actions for a specific period of time, such as sitting, standing, lying down, walking, or running. 
  • Inner Stories and Visual Literacy. As they read the story (or you read it aloud to them), encourage students to pay close attention to the details and character expressions in each illustration. What information is conveyed through those illustrations that isn’t explained or described in the written text? What and how do the toy characters respond to each event in the story? Making sure that students ground their responses in evidence from both the text and illustrations, invite them to wonder what each character may be thinking and feeling – what their inner stories are as they witness the events that occur. What might they be thinking, feeling, experiencing, and remembering as they are waiting? Encourage students to share those characters’ inner stories in a number of ways: in writing, through oral storytelling, as a role play, or perhaps in a mural or comic strip. 
  • What Happens Next? Much of the book’s charm draws from the everyday surprises that punctuate the toys’ waiting periods and the endless possibilities about what might happen next. Have students brainstorm some of those possibilities based on their close reading of the text as well as their prior and lived experiences with toys and with waiting. Perhaps the next thing to happen only affects one of the toys; perhaps what happens next occurs outside the window for all to see. Once the class has a decent pool of ideas, have each student select one (or a few). Have them write and illustrate the next few pages of the book, either traditionally on paper or via art and bookmaking apps. Share students’ writing via student read-alouds, a gallery walk, or online display. 
  • Writer’s Craft and Mentor Text. One of the trademarks of expert storyteller Kevin Henkes’ craft is his use of linguistic patterns in his text. Many of his stories, for example, employ the “Rule of Three,” in which details are provided in groups of three. Have students reread and examine the written text of Waiting (you might want to type the text onto a Word document and share just that with students) to identify and label any patterns they see in Henkes’ writing. As a class, discuss what patterns were identified and how they contribute to the tone and pacing of the story. Then have students try emulating some of those patterns in their own writing, using Waiting and others of Henkes’ books as mentor texts. 
  • Exploring Line. In Waiting, Henkes outlines shapes with thick pencil, as he did in Little White Rabbit, the Caldecott Award-winning Kitten’s First Full Moon, and others. Give students the opportunity to draw what happens to the toys after the book is over (perhaps in conjunction with the aforementioned “What Happens Next?” activity), using the same tools as the illustrator: color pencils and acrylic paints. Photocopy or scan each child’s original illustration, and then have them outline the major parts of one of the copies using a thick charcoal pencil, to mimic the thick brush outlines Henkes used. Hang each child’s drawings side by side. What feels different? How would the story feel different if the bold outlines weren’t there? (This teaching idea originally appeared in our entry on Little White Rabbit).
  • The Theodore S. Geisel Award. Discuss the fact that Waiting has received an award that, in name, honors the work of Theodore Geisel, or Dr. Seuss. Compare Waiting with one of Dr. Seuss’s beginning readers such as Hop on Pop. What is similar about the two books? What is different? What makes the books well suited for beginning readers? Expand this activity by gathering the other Geisel award winners and sharing the award criteria with your students. Distribute the books to small groups of students and ask them to discuss how in their view, the criteria apply to the winners. One important aspect of the books is that although the text is simple, the content is often sophisticated, requiring the reader works to construct more complex meaning through inference. As a further extension of this activity, you might ask older students to use what they have learned about books for beginning readers to author their own beginning reader book. These books can be shared with primary grade students. Further discussion of Geisel award winners and honors books can be found in our Classroom Bookshelf entry for The Watermelon Seed, Up! Tall! and High!, Tales for Very Picky Eaters, I Want My Hat Back, and You Are (Not) Small. (This teaching idea originally appeared in our entry on Up! Tall! and High!)
  • Author/Illustrator Study. Have students explore the work of Kevin Henkes’s picture books during literacy stations. One station can have the books that contain Lily as a character (Lily’s Plastic Purple Purse, Lily’s Big Day, Julius the Baby of the World, Chester’s Way). Another station can contain his other animal fantasy books (A Weekend with Wendell, Bailey Goes Camping, Shelia Rae the Brave, Chrysanthemum, Owen), while still another can contain his human picture books (The Biggest Boy, All Alone, Clean Enough, Jessica, Shhhh). A fourth station might include his “quiet contemplation” picture books (Waiting, Kitten’s First Full Moon, Old Bear, A Good Day, My Garden, Little White Rabbit). Have students circulate through each station, using graphic organizers to keep track of the similarities and differences between them. When the groups have gone through all of the stations, have them make presentations to one another sharing the similarities and differences they observed. These presentations can use charts and posters or they could be skits in which the characters from different books meet. (This teaching idea originally appeared in our entry on Little White Rabbit).

Further Explorations

Kevin Henkes’ website on Waiting

Greenwillow Books’ Teaching Guide for Waiting


For a list of all of Kevin Henkes’s works in print:

Barnett, M. (2014). Sam and Dave dig a hole. Ill. by J. Klassen. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press. See our Classroom Bookshelf entry here.

Salman, M., & Handler, D. (2015) Hurry up and wait. New York: The Museum of Modern Art.

Portis, A. (2015). Wait. New York: Roaring Brook Press.

Willems, M. (2014). Waiting is not easy! New York: Disney-Hyperion.

Grace Enriquez About Grace Enriquez

Grace is an associate professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former English Language Arts teacher, reading specialist, and literacy consultant, she teaches and writes about children’s literature, critical literacies, and literacies and embodiment. Grace is co-author of The Reading Turn-Around and co-editor of Literacies, Learning, and the Body.


  1. Wow! What an incredibly expansive listing of possibilities to use with this beautifully illustrated and thoughtfully written book. Thank you, Ladies, for sharing, once again, another very special book- along with your sensitive perspective- that will help all of us, young and old, slow down and take notice and hopefully become more reflective and appreciative of our surroundings. Can't wait to have this in my bag and spread the word about its gifts! Kevin Henkes is amazing!

  2. Looks great! I am a real fan of Kevin Henkes, since the first book my son read was Lily's Purple Plastic Purse!