I think I have mentioned this before but I have this weird way of getting a fix for my book addiction. I prowl the discount section at Half Price Books. I rarely buy fat “adult” books, however, as I most enjoy the children’s and young adult section. It is amazing the quality picture books you can find for a dollar or two. This way my kids get another story for bedtime and I avoid the guilt of another book on the overwhelming TBR pile. Win-Win, right?
And on Saturday I stumbled upon The Little King December by Axel Hacke, Michael Sowa (Illustrator), Rosemary Davidson (Translator). This is one of those books I love to stumble upon because it is short, quirky and has great illustrations. You can read in one sitting and enjoy your find having only paid $1.
Little King December comes from a place where, the day you are born, you wake up fully-grown and fully clothed. That very first day of your life you go into your office, make some deals, sell a few books, or, in his case, rule a kingdom. And every day you get a little bit smaller and you forget a little bit more, so that at the end of your life you are tiny, and you spend your days forgetting things, eating brightly colored gummy bears, and chasing shadows in the garden. But don’t let size fool you. Little King December is full of big questions that require big answers. What do you know already when you are born? Why do you feel small when you look at something big? With an upside-down logic and a knack at finding the funny truth of things, the little pot-bellied king teaches the narrator and the reader what life and dreams are all about.
My wife read it to the family on the care ride home but the kids soon lost interest. But I managed to find some quite moments that afternoon to read it. It really is a wonderful gem: quirky and imaginative, philosophical and even thought provoking at times, but melancholy even as it is silly; all with some great illustrations.
I was trying to put my thoughts together about the philosophical side of the story and stumbled upon a review by Donna McKinnon that really says it better than I ever could (plus she has some great pictures of the illustrations included in her review:
Little King December ends without any questions answered, just posed. What is the more desirable progression in life? The one that leads to imagination, or the one that leads to knowledge? Is it better to be born knowing everything you’ll ever know, with an understanding that the weight (and perhaps the drudgery) of life will slowly lift as you grow older? Or is it the familiar trajectory of acquired knowledge and experience, often at the expense of our innocence? Most importantly, are there really fire-breathing dragons down by the market square? We all long for the simplicity of childhood every now and again, but these things are not lost, they’re just buried. A book like Little King December serves to remind us in a most original, and funny, and lovely way, that life is odd. And remarkable. And maybe a little sad. And that sometimes…a slight twist to our perspective is all that is required to see the world anew, as if we were a child, or a little King.
I am not sure this is really allegory or fable in the literary sense. Although, it does have an element of the supernatural or fantastic and the character of the Little King clearly stands of a different way of seeing the world. But really it is a sort of enchantment; a story that use a fantastical element to catch your attention and allow the dialog to explore weightier matters (see above blockquote).
On the other hand, the book doesn’t require deep philosophical thought. You can read it just for the silly ,quirky interaction between the king and the narrator; for the strange and wonderful way the story captures/describes the world. And for the beautiful illustrations.
So if you stumble upon this book like I did, I recommend you pick it up.