The King and the SeaHeinz Janisch, ill. Wolf Erlbruch
Gecko Press, NZ$20 pb ($35 hb)
Gecko’s policy of producing English translations of award-winning overseas children’s books exposes our young readers to some very different attitudes. In The King and the Sea, Austria’s Heinz Janisch creates a series of little fables about authority and power that are as relevant to New Zealand as to Europe. Each short tale shows the king – a middle-aged, bald little man who could as easily be a prime minister as a king – learning something about himself and the world around him.
A dog ignores the king’s bellowed orders and the king has to run after him. A sun-bathing cat declares that the sun is its king, so the king lies down and basks in the sunlight. The king’s shadow says its purpose is “to stop you coming up with stupid ideas.” When the king demands a blanket, the snow covers him. The ocean, the wind, clouds, birds and even squirrels have a message for the King. Each of the brief stories, skilfully illustrated by Wolf Erlbruch, teaches the king something about himself, leadership and authority. Young readers may not always spot the hidden moral, but this is a children’s book that could be of value to some adults.
Trevor Agnew (2015)
This review appeared in The Press (Christchurch, New Zealand) on 20 Jun 2015.