by Kevin Henkes
Kevin Henkes (author of Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse) presents an endearing story about accepting one’s self and others. The illustrations are delightful, and the narrative is sophisticated enough that it didn’t seem childish. (Be sure to check out the book titles Chrysanthemum’s father reads!)
My middle name is “Dars,” and when I was in elementary school, I wished so much my middle name was “Ann” like my friends Emily and Kim. (Now, I’m happy to have such a unique middle name.) I could empathize with Chrysanthemum who was given the name out of love from her parents who thought she was beautiful and special and needed a perfect name.
Chrysanthemum loved her name until she went to school and her classmates, who had names like Jo, Sam, and Max, led by bully Victoria, teased her about it. A sad refrain in the book is “Chrysanthemum wilted.” But when Mrs. Twinkle, the music teacher, says she loves the name Chrysanthemum and was herself named after the delphinium flower, all the girls wished they were named after flowers, too.
The book contains challenging vocabulary such as winsome, begrudging, jaundiced which children will surely need help with but made the book, to me, seem less belittling than some children’s titles. As much as I liked the book, though, I wish that Chrysanthemum gained renewed confidence not from praise from a teacher but perhaps an internal source. Additionally, it is somewhat satisfying when bully Victoria gets her comeuppance, it also feels a little mean-spirited.
That said, I can see why this has been such a popular title since it’s 1991 publication. It’s a title children and adults can return to again and again.