Traditional Thursdays: Chrysanthemum

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For this Traditional Thursday, I selected a childhood favorite: Chrysanthemum. Kevin Henkes authored and illustrated this book, along with a number of other favorites of mine, including Owen and Wemberly WorriesChrysanthemum was published in 1991 by Harper Collins.

The book follows the story of a little girl whose parents name her Chrysanthemum. She and her parents absolutely love her name and think it perfect for her. She spends the first part of her life appreciating the name her parents gave her. Chrysanthemum writes her name in as many ways as she can and whispers it to herself throughout the day.

Chrysanthemum loves her name and thinks it perfect…until she starts school. Her classmates begin to pick fun at her for her name. They tell her it’s too long and is the name of a flower, to which Chrysanthemum “wilted.” She goes home to her parents who comfort her and tell her the name they gave her is perfect, but she continues to be made fun of at school and begins to have nightmares of being an actual flower.

What finally makes Chrysanthemum proud of her name is when their music teacher announces her name is also a flower, and tells the class if her baby is a girl, she will name her Chrysanthemum. The tides kind of turn, and now all the students who made fun of her are jealous of Chrysanthemum. The book ends with the class in a play, Chrysanthemum playing a flower. The very last page is unique, as it is a short epilogue of the story, outlining how the play went and what her friends think of her name now.

The illustrations in this book are well done, but nothing extraordinary. However, the colors used are bright and cheerful, and match the whimsy of Chrysanthemum’s name and her upbeat parents. The text is separate from the illustrations, which are outlined in black. The book gives the feeling that you are looking through a photo album of Chrysanthemum growing up. I think this approach was successful, especially when the size and number of illustrations on each page varies.

This is also another book where the main characters are animals. I am not convinced about whether this is a positive choice by the author, but I do believe it allows for children from all different backgrounds to identify with Chrysanthemum. I enjoyed the underlying lesson in the book about being proud of you are, even when your peers are unkind.

Posted by Megan Matthews

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