Cover image for The birthday room
The birthday room
Henkes, Kevin.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Greenwillow Books, [1999]

Physical Description:
152 pages ; 22 cm
When twelve-year-old Ben visits his uncle in Oregon, he feels caught in the strained relationship between his mother and her brother while he also begins to accept himself as an artist.
Reading Level:
750 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 5.0 5.0 36567.

Reading Counts RC 6-8 4.5 7 Quiz: 18558 Guided reading level: V.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Juvenile Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Juvenile Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



"Two of the things Benjamin Hunter received for his twelfth birthday took him completely by surprise: A room and a letter. The room was from his parents. The letter was from his uncle."

Ben was just two years old when he and his uncle, Ian, were last together, so Ben didn't remember him. And no one in Ben's family ever talked about the man. Thenthe letter arrived, changing Ben's life, and changing his family in unexpected ways. And there was the birthday room...

Author Notes

Kevin Henkes was born in Racine, Wis. in 1960 and graduated from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. One of four children in his family, Henkes grew up with aspirations of being an artist. As a junior in high school, one of Henkes's teachers awakened his interest in writing. Falling in love with both writing and drawing, Henkes realized that he could do both at the same time as a children's book author and illustrator.

At the age of 19, Henkes went to New York City to get his first book, All Alone, published. Since that time, he has written and illustrated dozens of picture books including Chrysanthemum, Protecting Marie, and A Weekend with Wendell. A recurring character in several of Henkes's books is Lily, an outrageous, yet delightful, individualist. Lily finds herself the center of attention in the books Chester's Way, Julius, the Baby of the World, and Lily's Purple Plastic Purse.

A Weekend With Wendell was named Children's Choice Book by the Children's Book Council in 1986. He recieved the Elizabeth Burr Award for Words of Stone in 1993. Owen was named a Caldicott Honor in 1994. The Year of Billy Miller was named a Newbery Honor book in 2014.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 5^-7. For his twelfth birthday, Ben Hunter receives a room that he can use as an art studio and a letter from his uncle--the one responsible for the loss of Ben's little finger when Ben was a toddler. The room seems overwhelming to Ben, as if he must make art to live up to it. But the letter, which contains an invitation from his uncle to come visit, holds more allure. Mrs. Hunter, who has been angry at her brother since the accident, reluctantly agrees to go to Oregon with Ben. Once there, Ben finds himself adrift in the storm of emotions that surround his Uncle Ian and his mother, his new aunt, Nina, and the baby she is about to have. When an accident occurs and the young brother of a new friend is hurt, Ben feels partially to blame, and he learns that making amends is one of the most important lessons life has to offer. This is a quiet story, gracefully written but with a focus on the adult characters that may distance it from young readers. On a more practical level, readers may wonder about the ability of two 12-year-olds to build the redemptive gift, a hut in the forest. In some ways as much allegory as contemporary tale, this story will find an audience among children who are sensitive to nuance and willing to ponder such eternal issues as family and forgiveness, and how both are forged by bonds of love. --Ilene Cooper

Publisher's Weekly Review

Two gifts on a boy's 12th birthday fortuitously bring an entire family closer together. Young Benjamin likes to draw and paint, but when his parents give him a present of a room to use as a studio, he feels pressured into becoming an artist. He is enthralled by his second gift: a letter from his Uncle Ian in Oregon, inviting Ben to come for a visit. Ben's mother, however, is not so enthralled; she still blames her younger brother for a wood-shop accident that caused Ben to lose a finger at age two. Not until Ben tells her, "If I had to choose, I'd take the trip over the room," does she consent to the visit. As Ben spends time in Oregon with his mother, Uncle Ian, Ian's expectant wife, Nina, and the Deeter children who live nearby, he makes some important discoveries about his family and himself, and eventually finds a special purpose for his "birthday room." Once again, Henkes (Sun and Spoon; Protecting Marie) explores family relationships with breathtaking tenderness, showing how feelings of guilt, bitterness and fear can be quelled by more deeply rooted love. His understated narrative from Ben's perspective has a translucent quality that allows readers to discover the subtle dynamics among the adult characters right along with Ben. The characters here, especially Ben and the Deeter children, will be cherished. Ages 10-up. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 4-7-Two gifts given to Ben on his 12th birthday bring changes to his family in this novel by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow, 1999). The first gift, from his parents, is a room of his own to use as an art studio. The second is a letter from his mother's brother in Oregon inviting him for a visit. While Ian feels pressured by the first gift, he wants to know more about his Uncle Ian. At the age of two, Ben lost a finger as a result of an accident in Ian's woodshop, and his mother has never forgiven Ian. When Ben tells his mother that he would prefer the trip to the room, she relents and they travel to Oregon. While in Oregon, Ben meets his uncle, aunt, and the Deeter children who live nearby. He begins to understand that guilt affects people in different ways and sees how love can mend family problems. Reader Terrence Mann brings to life the lyrical prose of the descriptions. His subtle vocal nuances make each character easily recognizable. Appropriate for classroom, small group, or individual listening, fans of Henkes will not be disappointed.- Sylvia Feicht, Kankakee Valley Intermediate School, Wheatfield, IN (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.