I don't know how a person goes about making a black and white picture book appear to shimmer and shine, but somehow or other author Kevin Henkes does it. Having decided to conquer the world of cats as well as the world of mice (if this statement confuses you a single glimpse of "Lily's Purple Plastic Purse" should explain what I mean), Henkes has shifted his focus squarely on a small hungry kitten. Inviting child audiences to simultaneously pity and scoff (nicely) at its small mistaken heroine, the story is about a feline that tries to capture the moon, but is happy enough in the end with a simple bowl of milk.
Kitten, we take it, is not very old. In fact, for the first time ever she's experiencing her first full moon. Apparently no one thought to explain to Kitten exactly what a moon is and since her only frame of reference for a large round white thing is a bowl of milk, that's exactly what she mistakes the moon to be. What follows is a series of mild calamities as Kitten tries time and again to reach that tempting bowl of milk in the sky. Simply sticking her tongue out doesn't work. She gets fireflies stuck there. Leaping at the moon from the house's steps doesn't work. She just bumps her bum. Chasing the moon over hill and dale doesn't work. Kitten can't help but notice that she never gets closer. After other mistakes Kitten, dejected and more than a little soggy, returns home to find an inviting bowl of milk sitting on her home's steps just for her. Says the last line in the book, "Lucky Kitten".
The illustrations in this book are, in a word, luminous. Somehow Henkes has taken somewhat bland black and grey gouache and colored pencils and used them to give the impression of a world bathed in shimmering moonlight. Kitten herself is a lovely innocent little creature. There are some truly amusing moments when she finds that she's just been tricked in some way. In times like these her mouth pretty much disappears and her eyes become wide, staring straight at the reader. It's a brilliant comic effect, and it keeps you rooting for Kitten. If there's anything to beware of in this book it may be your children over identifying with the little cat. I know that I, for one, felt awful for her when she found herself floating in a pond (she saw the reflection of the moon in the pond and thought... well, you know) and, "was wet and sad and tired and hungry". Fortunately Kitten's happy ending is just a few pages away, so kids won't have much time to dwell on the unhappy heroine's predicament.
The book is not too unlike one of my favorite picture books from childhood. Like, "The Patchwork Cat" by Nicola Bayley & William Mayne, this book is about a cat attempting to find and recover the thing she loves best. The two books would pair brilliantly together for any storytime. Henkes has redirected his storylines from rodents to cats so well that I suspect his fans won't be clamoring for any more mousie tales for quite some time. If you'd like a picture book that is as beautiful as it is misleadingly simple, "Kitten's First Full Moon" is your best bet. Perhaps the most beautiful black and white picture book on the market today.