Literary Guide for Kevin Henkes’ “Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse”

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse
by Kevin Henkes

This week as part of our Summer Reading Resource literary guide series, Kevin Henkes’ classic, Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse is featured. Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, a silly yet meaningful story, is the tale of a young mouse who is quite enamored with some of her most favorite possessions and has trouble containing her excitement! Lilly, an elementary school student, brings her favorite purple plastic purse to school, filled with fancy movie star glasses and three big, shiny quarters. She is eager to show of her goodies with her classmates, but isn’t able to find a way of doing this that fits with the class routine and expectations. Unfortunately, her teacher (whom she normally loves) takes away her purse and its contents until the end of day, leaving Lilly frustrated and disappointed. She even draws a mean picture and puts it in her teacher’s bag in order to get back at him.

By the end of the story, Lilly has learned a few important lessons. Able to share her prized items the next day at school, she learns the proper etiquette for bringing things from home into the classroom. She also learns to apologize, and learns that in working to curb her excitement, she can avoid such situations in the future…

Henkes’ portrayal of Lilly perfectly illustrates the complexities of the excitement experienced in early childhood. Still very impulsive, Lilly just can’t seem to hold back while in her classroom – but she learns an important lesson that will help her make better choices in the future. Her love for her purple purse, glittery glasses, and small amount of change also illustrates the passion for special objects that children have in early childhood. Lilly is a very easy character to relate to, and children will likely think of similar experiences that they have had while reading the story.

The literature guide accompanying the story includes lesson plans for helping children use the book as a platform for expanding their understanding of descriptive language and developing their skills in summarizing a text. The guide also includes questions for pre-reading discussion, and a list of possible topics to discuss after reading to help children understand the story and learn from it. Suggestions are also made for further activities, including some interpretive dance, math with money, opinion writing, and other educational and engaging tasks.

Of course, the book is valuable for teaching reading skills, but it is also a very useful end-of-summer book for young children who will be returning to school next month. Kids are learning year-round, whether or not they are in a traditional classroom setting, but for some kids, transitioning back to a regular school routine can be difficult. Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse can be used as a back-to-school book if families encourage kids to think about how they might handle Lilly’s situation. Reading the book together can help to prompt discussions on behavior, making good choices, self-monitoring, and dealing with strong emotions (both happy and sad). Prepping children for the upcoming fall transition can help them hit the ground running when school starts, and reading a text about a realistically silly child can help them to understand that nobody is perfect, and that it’s okay to make mistakes sometimes when you’re still learning!


Hilltown Families weekly Summer Reading Resource series shares downloadable guides of children’s literature from graduate students in the Integrated Learning teacher preparation program at Antioch University New England. Each literary guide pairs a featured book with suggestions for ways to help children expand their thinking, create connections to the text, and allow their literacy skills to grow. These guides contain outlines with discussion questions, art projects, outdoor adventures, and many other activities that are designed for use in classrooms but can very easily be adapted for use at home for supplemental education. Featured titles cover a wide variety of themes, lengths, and levels of difficulty – meaning there’s something for every family, and for every reader! Some are classics, some are lesser-known gems – but all of the books present potential for helping families build upon the stories that they read together. — Interested in featuring this series at your local library or school? Email Sienna at

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