Saturday 15 October 2011

Grumpy Little King

HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-74237-572-4
Reviewed by Thalia Kalkipsakis
War is a topic that does not sit naturally in a children’s picture book, but Michel Streich’s Grumpy Little King handles its complexities in a way that is both accessible and touching. The ending may even make you smile.

When asked why he is grumpy all the time the little king explodes: ‘I am fed up with being the little king of a tiny nation! I want to be a big king, important, powerful and rich! I want to be famous and rule over an enormous country!’

His advisors recommend war.

And so follows the search for an enemy and the purchasing of ships, planes and guns. Parades are held, and the little king gives speeches. The men in the kingdom, who used to be bakers, teachers, farmers and builders, are given uniforms and rifles. ‘Everyone was a soldier now.’

The story is told in simple language, with honesty and humour, but its illustrations speak most powerfully. The grumpy king is at once terrifying and tragic, dwarfed by his advisors and almost disappearing at the end of his dining table. Every line in his face seems to simmer with fury.

The king’s advisors are bland, hidden behind empty spectacles. The general is almost faceless beneath his army cap, other than a smug smile. Most telling of all are the expressions on the soldiers’ faces as they march into war: their heads are tilted down, their eyes turned to one side. It’s a page that commands a pause.

Misdirected authority and its awful impact are at the forefront of themes in this story, but it also lends itself to more. For younger children, Grumpy Little King could be an entry to discussion about fighting and bullying. For older children it could be about the dynamics and consequences of war itself, as well as conflict resolution. Even adults will find themselves cheering at the outcome, and then rethinking the victims. Where, for example, are the king’s advisors during the final pages of the book?

The conclusion is indeed satisfying but, true to war, not all guilty players get what they deserve.
Thalia’s latest book is called Head Spinners: six stories to twist your brain ( 

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