Meryl Streep is a fan of Kevin Henkes. That's why she narrated Chrysanthemum, a 1999 short based on a book by the prolific Madison children's author and illustrator. "I was told that she'd said it was her daughter's favorite," he recalls.
These days, Henkes can count as an admirer another Hollywood star, 14-year-old Elle Fanning (Super 8, We Bought a Zoo). Her favorite book is his 2003 young-adult novel Olive's Ocean, and she said so to producer Donald Rosenfeld on the set of Effie, the forthcoming film starring Dakota Fanning, Elle's sister.
One thing led to another, and now a film version of Olive's Ocean is in the works. Elle Fanning is slated to star in it, and the movie may be partially filmed on location in Madison.
"I got a phone call, I don't know, half a year ago from my editor, saying that a producer was interested," Henkes says. The producer was Rosenfeld, president of Merchant Ivory Productions in the 1980s and 1990s, when that company was turning out prestigious literary adaptations like Howards End and Remains of the Day. Most recently, Rosenfeld was an executive producer of Terrence Malick's acclaimed head-scratcher The Tree of Life.
"We ended up chatting," says Henkes, "and it was, at that point, very iffy, but it was still exciting. Many months passed, and I think I put it out of my mind." Then the project began to gather momentum, and, he says, "I was excited all over again."
Set in Madison and on Cape Cod, Olive's Ocean tells a poignant story about a 12-year-old girl who confronts death when a classmate is killed and her grandmother speaks candidly about her own impending demise. "I think of it as a hopeful book," says Henkes. The novel received a Newbery honor and is one of dozens of books Henkes has produced for young people, from beginning readers to adolescents.
The screenplay is set to be written by Christina Hammonds Reed, who plans to visit Madison to scope out locations from the book. Henkes could probably contribute creatively if he chose to, "and I think I will probably choose not to," he says. "Making a movie is so different from making a book. There are so many people involved, so many schedules that need to be put into place. My tiny exposure to this world makes me love my job even more."
Mainly, Henkes trusts Rosenfeld with Olive's Ocean. "I admire the movies that Don Rosenfeld has produced," he says. "He really seems to love the written word."