A selfish young man learns to compromise in a book with bold, kente-cloth colors
[Note: I usually review children's books on Saturday. But I discovered this terrific British author while sifting through picture books on Easter for my March 17 post. And she's so good I can't resist slipping in another of her books during the week. Tomorrow: "Bye, Bye, Birdie: Recommended Children's Picture Books About the Death of a Pet." Jan]
King of Another Country. By Fiona French. Oxford University Press and Scholastic Press, 32 pp., varied prices. Ages 4–8.
By Janice Harayda
Ask children’s literature experts to suggest good picture books with African themes, and you’re likely to hear some titles over and over. Among them: John Steptoe’s Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters (Amistad, 1988), an African Cinderella story, and Gerald McDermott’s Ananci the Spider: A Tale From the Ashanti (Holt, 1972), both Caldecott Honor books that have become mainstays of school and library reading lists.
A worthy book that has received less attention comes from Fiona French, an English artist who won the Kate Greenaway Medal for Snow White in New York. King of Another Country tells the story of selfish young man who always said “no” but learns to say “yes” after he leaves his African village and ventures into the forest, where he meets people who make him their king. French describes Ojo’s adventures in graceful, economical prose resembling that of a folk tale, though she doesn’t say whether her book was inspired by one. But the show-stoppers are her dynamic illustrations. Each page bursts with vibrant designs that appear inspired by kente cloth, the royal Ashanti fabric known for its bright colors and bold geometric shapes, often with a basket-weave pattern.
French uses kente-like motifs not just on clothes but on shields, houses, a river, and even a face. The effect is to make you feel immersed in a world that is traditionally African, yet and fresh and surprising enough to hold your attention until the last page.
Best line/picture: Ojo meets a King of the Forest rendered entirely in brilliant shades of green and yellow that make him seem fully human but also ethereal.
Worst line/picture: None. But some parents might object to an image of Ojo carrying a rifle when he goes hunting in the forest.
Recommended … without reservations.
Published: April 1993 (Scholastic edition).
© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.