It is my understanding that "Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse" is the book that really launched Kevin Henkes from mere picture book drudgery to children's book stardom. Certainly he'd been churning out stories that spoke to kids and their qualms ("Owen", "Chrysanthemum", etc.) Lilly grabbed the world's spotlight and focused it squarely on her cute little shoulders. Though she'd already appeared in two previous Henkesian creations ("Chester's Way" and "Julius, the Baby of the World"), this was Lilly's first foray as a protagonist with her name in the title. As such, the book has been turned into a stage play, been read by millions of small children, and gives spunky kids someone they can identify with and look up to. In short, she's a pip.
Lilly is mightily pleased with her life at the moment. She loves school and she adores her teacher Mr. Slinger. Mr. Slinger (undoubtedly a relation of Miss Twinkle from "Chrysanthemum") is the coolest prof in the world. He wears crazy colored ties, refers to his students as "rodents", provides yummy tasty snacks, and has a penchant for patterned shirts. Lilly is determined to someday be a teacher all thanks to Mr. Slinger. Unfortunately, Lilly's Slinger-love takes a downturn when she brings her new purple plastic purse to class. Noisily displaying it at an inappropriate time, Slinger confiscates the item until the end of the day. In anger, Lilly draws a mean portrait of her teacher and hides it in his book bag. But when the young girl opens her returned purse outside of school, she finds a note reading, "Today was a difficult day. Tomorrow will be better", and some yummy snacks are included. Suddenly wracked with guilt, Lilly decides to make up with her teacher and by the end the two have reconciled joyfully.
Now I was lucky enough to see the Minneapolis Children Theater's production of this particular book (combined with some of Lilly's other adventures to pad it out). And though I'm not a weepy gal by nature, I found myself tearing up during the reading of Mr. Slinger's note to Lilly (i.e. "Tomorrow will be better") as well as when I read the picture book. I don't tear up during children's stage productions and I CERTAINLY don't tear up when reading picture books. Yet here I was, all of 26 years of age, and bawling over the succinct sweetness of Slinger's comforting note. How many books have done this for you recently? How many picture books?
The tale is filled to the brim with the Henkes touches a person expects from his work (be sure to notice the Krazy Kat reference in Lilly's dining room). As per usual there is the comfortable family containing loving parents. And best of all, that wonderful way Henkes has of bringing a happy child to life on the page. No adult reading this book would want to be anyone BUT Mr. Slinger and no child reading it wouldn't want to know him. As for Lilly, she walks the fine line between precocious and precious. And wins. If you're a Henkes fan you won't want to miss this delightful star-making turn. If you're not a Henkes fan, do what you can to cure yourself of this ailment and then immediately read and enjoy this book. It's worth the effort.