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Children's author Kevin Henkes talks with Kidsday

Author Kevin Henkes with Kidsday reporters Alexander Leacock,

Author Kevin Henkes with Kidsday reporters Alexander Leacock, Jake Rogers Nyla Campbell and Aiyana Torres, at Symphony Space in Manhattan on May 20, 2014. Credit: Newsday / Pat Mullooly

We met children's author Kevin Henkes when he was at Symphony Space in Manhattan recently.

What is your inspiration?

I think my inspiration comes from different things. Sometimes I think about things that happened to me when I was boy and that might be the seed for a book. I think writers are observers and watchers. We always have our ears open and eyes open, so I might see something in everyday life that inspires me. And I think that's probably more than anything else. Everyday life is where I get my inspiration.

What did you do before you started writing and at what age? How old were you?

I've been really lucky. I decided I wanted to write and illustrate children's books when I was a junior in high school, and that's when I really began thinking about doing that. So I went to college and I was an art major in Wisconsin and I went to New York the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college, and that's when I got a contract for my very first book. So writing and illustrating books is the only real job that I ever had in my entire life. So I've been very, very lucky.

What is your writing style?

That's a hard question . . . I don't think about style when I'm working. What usually happens -- I have an idea and then I form a character, and that sort of leads me. But I will say that I like stories that are about ordinary kids . . . that's sort of my guide.

Would you like to have any of your books turned into movies?

Oh, I would like to have books turned into movies. There's one of my books, "Olive's Ocean," and right now there's an option for it to be made into a movie. It probably won't happen, but who knows if it will happen. But it will be great, and that's sort of exciting to think about.

What was your first book, and how many books have you written?

My first book was called "All Alone" and it came out in 1981, and my newest book, "The Year of Billy Miller," is my 47th book.

Where do you your writing?

I usually do my writing in a very nice room, my studio, which is in the attic of our house in Wisconsin. But the nice thing about writing is that I can do it in many places. So sometimes I'll write in coffee shops. I live in Wisconsin, but I've written, even parts of Billy Miller, I've written in coffee shops in New York City when I've come here. When I'm drawing. I only do that at home, really, at my drawing table. But writing I could do in other places. So I've written in airports, in hotels, different places.

How many awards do you have?

I don't know. I've been very lucky in that regard too. So I've won some nice awards. But I couldn't tell you how many.

What's the next idea for a book?

Well I've written a book called "Waiting for Spring," and my wife, Laura Dronzek, is doing the pictures for it. We collaborated on two books in the past -- one called "Oh!" and one called "Birds." And I'm just beginning to work on a picture book of my own, but it's too soon to talk about it.

Where did the name Billy Miller come from?

That's a good question. I love forming a new character, and I wanted to write about a boy. I decided that he wouldn't be an only child because the book I did before that had been about an only child. And I decided he would be a second-grader, and then I started thinking about his name, and I wanted him to be an ordinary kid and I liked the name Billy. Actually, I came up with his last name first, Miller. Seemed like a very nice ordinary middle kind of name, and then I wanted his first name to sound nice with his last name, and then I thought, maybe it can have that internal rhyme and I tried different things, and I thought that Billy Miller had a very nice sound to it. So it took me a while to get it. Once I got it, it's a very good feeling, and I knew it was exactly right. Sounded perfect to me.

Do you put your friends in your books?

Every now and then I might put something in where my friend would know, oh, he put that in because of me, but I don't like to do it in a way that it sticks out . . . Every now and then, maybe, my kids would say something and that might show up in the book.

Do you know the ending of a book before you write it?

I usually know where I want to end up when I begin, but I have no idea how I'm going to get there . . . I don't write with an outline and surprises happen on the way and sometimes it changes.

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