Eight years ago, Laura Dronzek ’82, MFA’ 93 opened a gift. Handmade, personal, and a surprise to boot, it was the perfect way to celebrate a wedding anniversary: a picture-book manuscript by her husband, Kevin Henkes x’83, superstar of contemporary children’s literature.
“Before Spring comes, the trees look like black sticks against the sky,” read the manuscript. “But when Spring is finally here to stay, you will know it. … You will feel it. You will smell it. You will hear it.”
It was a heartfelt ode to everybody’s favorite season. In Dronzek’s case, it was also an invitation to collaborate. Henkes illustrates many of his books, but this one was perfect for her.
Dronzek, a fine-art painter who’s also a sought-after children’s illustrator, happily accepted. The couple soon headed to the side-by-side studios in their Madison home to create When Spring Comes, which was published by Greenwillow Books in 2016. Since writing and illustrating tend to be solitary pursuits, working together has been a refreshing change of pace. Like the words and illustrations in a successful picture book, the two artists have brought out the best in each other in such titles as Winter Is Here, Summer Song, and Birds.
“Laura and I trust one another completely. She’s the first person to see everything I make,” Henkes says. “It’s wonderful to have a person in your close proximity who cares about you but can look at the work with a clear, cool eye.”
Their bond involves a shared perspective on life and art — a vision of old-fashioned simplicity reflected in both their exceptional books and their happy home.