Heinz Janisch (text), Wolf Erlbruch (illus.). The King and the Sea: 21 extremely short stories Gecko Press, March 2015, $AU16.99/$NZ19.99 (pbk, with flaps), 48pp., ISBN 978-1-927271-80-3
$NZ34.99 (hbk with flaps), 48pp., ISBN 978-1-877579-94-3
As Max, the wildest king of all, discovered many years ago, being the boss is not all it is cracked up to be. This intriguing picture book might begin a philosophic process in younger minds to think about the pros and cons of egotism versus community and then apply such thinking into their own space. In each very simple and finely-tuned story, the king must confront the notion of responsible kingship and contemplate the possible consequences of simple egotism. When the king asserts “I am” in the first story, the sea answers with a whoosh. “Mmmm,” he contemplates and consequently stands quietly listening to the waves. This is a simple story that invites children to contemplate deeper ideas too: for each of our assertions about who we are and deserve to be, what are the implications, the possible contradictions? For example, can a tall, iconic building “assert” power and prestige as it sits astride the earth? What are the potential contradictions to the idea of icons like tall buildings and kings?
In the next “simple” story the king comes across a cat lying happily in the grass, warming his coat. The king observes that the sun is important to the cat and the cat responds that for this day, the sun is his king. The king thinks about this and then lies down and joins the cat! What philosophical thinking can children be encouraged to consider? In our daily lives, what is most important? What really “rules” us each day? Should we obey this ruling? What is clearly evident is that sophisticated thinking can emerge from simple stories, if children are encouraged to begin the process of deeper thinking. The art works from the award-wining illustrator are perfect to this end: there is no visual clutter that distracts but through the use of white space and focused crayon drawings that suggest the child as illustrator, children’s status as competent co-constructors of knowledge is given permission. This is a great book to start this journey! Teaching notes can be found on the Gecko Press website. Highly recommended.
reviewed by John McKenzie