Exclusive Interview with the Creator of Sheila Rae, the Brave
“Louise’s steadfastness and kindness save the day—that might be the most important message of Sheila Rae, the Brave.”
Introduce your students to Kevin Henkes, creator of Sheila Rae, the Brave, with this exclusive interview. Kevin reveals the real-life Sheila Rae, what motivated him to become an artist, and which character he relates to most.
How would you describe your younger self? Were you more like Sheila or Louise?
I was definitely more like Louise, still am. I was shy and introverted. I loved books and I loved to draw. I had a rich interior life.
You have said you grew up always wanting to be an artist. What lit that spark in you, and how did you decide that you wanted to be a children’s book author?
If it’s possible, I was born wanting to be an artist. I cannot remember a time when I did not consider myself one. I decided that I wanted to be a writer and illustrator of children’s books when I was in high school. I had an English teacher who praised my writing. She said that she wouldn’t be surprised if she saw a book with my name on it one day. That comment sent me on my way.
You have a cast of mice characters throughout your books. Was there anything in particular that provided a seed of inspiration for Sheila Rae, the Brave?
When I was a boy, for a short time a girl named Shelia Rae lived on my block. She had a younger sister. My sister babysat them. I can’t say I knew Shelia Rae well, but she seemed fearless. Her personality stayed with me and is one of the seeds from which the book grew.
Who in your life has been a figure like Louise is in Sheila Rae’s life, inspiring her to be brave when things get scary or lonely?
My mother was my biggest cheerleader. More than anyone, she encouraged my artistic pursuits—including nudging me on when I considered going to New York City at 19 to look for a publisher.
Of course, Sheila Rae’s bravery is the primary message for readers. What is another message from Sheila Rae, the Brave that you want students to know?
Although I don’t set out to write books with messages, they often become an important part of the story. Louise’s steadfastness and kindness save the day—that might be the most important message of Sheila Rae, the Brave.
Why do you think kids love reading your book?
Shelia Rae, the Brave is still in print and has been doing well for over 30 years, which makes me very happy. I suppose kids continue to read it because it’s humorous, it deals with real feelings, and it’s grounded in its setting—home and school. And—hopefully—it’s emotionally true.
Kevin Henkes grew up loving books and loving to draw and paint. He published his first book, All Alone, in 1981. In 1986, Kevin’s picture book portfolio blossomed thanks to the birth of some little mice in A Weekend with Wendell. Sixteen books featuring a parade of dynamic and unforgettable mouse characters have followed, including the 1994 Caldecott Honor book Owen, Chrysanthemum, and Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse. His newest mouse character, Penny, stars in a series for beginning readers that includes Penny and Her Song, Penny and Her Doll, and Penny and Her Marble. In 2005, he won the Caldecott Medal for Kitten’s First Full Moon. In addition to his picture books, Kevin has also published 12 middle grade novels, including the Newbery Medal winners The Year of Billy Miller and Olive’s Ocean. Kevin lives with his family in Wisconsin.
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