Chrysanthemum (Kevin Henkes)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes, a sweet tale of the joys of being unique.

When Chrysanthemum was born, her parents chose a name that encapsulated everything they felt about her, that she was precious and priceless and beautiful and fascinating. As she grew, Chrysanthemum loved her name – the way it looked written out, the way it sounded when her parents said it, and simply that it was hers. But when she starts school, and the other children tease her for her distinctive name, she suddenly feels ashamed of it. As the mean girls, lead by Victoria, cruelly bully her, even her parents’ love and support can’t stop Chrysanthemum from feeling sick over her name. However, their class is about to meet a very cool and popular teacher… one with a unique name of her own.

Using a cute plot with a sharp of edge of honesty to it, this story examines how bullying can hurt long after the words are spoken. It’s heartbreaking to watch the cruelty of others turn something a child loves about herself into something she feels shame for, but is definitely a story that many kids can relate to. As a parent, it’s tough to watch the little mouse’s own parents do everything they can to buoy Chrysanthemum’s spirits at the end of each day, only for her to still have nightmares, anxiety, and then her heart broken again the next. The ending is a little tidy, and I wish Chrysanthemum could have found a way to love her name again without having to be validated by another outside source. Also, it seemed petty that Victoria’s blunder in the epilogue is then mocked by Chrysanthemum – she shouldn’t need to sink to her bully’s level. But as a story of knowing how to recognize which people’s opinions to value, and loving yourself for who you are, it’s still a pretty special story. A little longer, but JJ didn’t mind because the story and text were compelling, and the illustrations are a bit dated but still adorable. Overall, Baby Bookworm approved!

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