FINDING THE RIGHT BOOK: How Kevin Henkes Helped Me Keep My Name and Continue Writing by Booki Vivat
Everyone who knows me knows that I am a big fan of Kevin Henkes. It’s not surprising—there are a lot of us. After all, he’s kind of a picture book legend. For me, though, it isn’t about the awards or achievements.
It’s because he wrote the book Chrysanthemum.
For those of you who haven’t read Chrysanthemum in a while, it’s the story of a young girl who has a somewhat unusual name. She goes to school for the first time and everyone else has very “normal” names: Sam, Sue, Pat, Tom, etc.
Like Chrysanthemum, I also have a kind of… unique… name. If I’m being honest, I didn’t always like it. In fact, I hated my name so much that my mom finally offered to let me change it. I was pumped about the idea of renaming myself and finally being like everyone else, but before I made the decision, my mom gave me a copy of the book Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes.
SPOILER ALERT: By the end of the book, Chrysanthemum grows to love her name, and I decided to keep mine.
So what does this have to do with Frazzled? Well, Frazzled began as a very dramatic doodle that I drew in a moment of crisis. It said: “I live my life in a constant state of impending doom.”
From this one very specific, very personal drawing came the idea that maybe there should be more… like a 200+ page illustrated middle grade book kind of “more!” But at the time, it didn’t have a story or a name. I wasn’t even sure what it was yet, and I definitely wasn’t sure if I should (or could) write it. I had no idea what I was doing.
I was nervous. I was excited. I was FREAKING OUT!
I didn’t know where to start, so I thought back to who I was when I was a kid and who I am now, how different I’ve become and how the same I still am. And suddenly, there was Abbie Wu, a girl with a lot of feelings and a lot of fears. A kid who was maybe a little dramatic and who, of course, lived on the brink of impending doom—just like me.
The clearer she became, the more it made sense. Who Abbie is and who I am feels so specific, so personal to me. I began to realize that not only should I write it, but that in many ways—for this particular story about this particular character—I was really the only person who could.
Writing this book was HARD. More often than not, I questioned whether anyone would want to read about this flustered, fictionalized version of my younger self trying to figure out who she was. I came across my own set of big, real world questions.
What was I even doing? Why was I even writing? Who was I even writing for?
But if you’ve stayed with me so far, this is when it comes together. This is when I remembered reading Chrysanthemum and being that kid who found the right book at the right time and decided to keep her name.
For me, Chrysanthemum wasn’t just about having a weird name or getting picked on or feeling different. For me, it was always about identity—not just Chrysanthemum’s, but my own. It was about identifying with an experience and a feeling that felt so specific and so personal, like it was mine. Back then, I honestly felt that this Kevin Henkes person, whoever he was, had written this book just for me.
As a kid, I was fortunate enough to have teachers, librarians, and mentors in my life who understood the power of finding the right book for the right reader. They helped me discover stories and characters that not only felt like they belonged to me, but that reflected parts of who I was and shaped the image of who I wanted to become.
Gail Carson Levine’s Ella made me stubborn and strong.
Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet kept me curious and truthful.
Louise Rennison’s Georgia taught me to laugh at the mortifying moments of my own life.
It was this recognition in books that carried me through the awful, terrible, otherwise doomed “Middles” many years ago and, more recently, reminded me of why I was writing Frazzled and who I was writing it for.
The strangest part about making a book is that you never really know what it can do or what it will become. Maybe there is a kid out there who will pick mine up and see something familiar in it. Someone weird and awkward and frazzled like me. Someone who is still just figuring things out.
That moment I found Chrysanthemum, I knew it was my book—the book I needed, the book I’d been missing, the right book. Who knows? Maybe for some kid, Frazzled could be theirs. And I hope that maybe, just maybe, when they read it, they’ll somehow know that this Booki Vivat person, whoever she is…
She wrote it just for them.
FRAZZLED is Booki Vivat’s debut novel. Booki has been doodling somewhat seriously since 2011 and not-so-seriously since childhood. She currently works in publishing and lives in Brooklyn, NY. Follow her on Instagram (@bookibookibooki) and Twitter (@thebookiv).