Review: The King and the Sea by Heinz Janisch

The King and the Sea by Heinz Janisch

The King and the Sea by Heinz Janisch, illustrated by Wolf Erlbruch

Told in 21 tiny stories, this is the life of a king as he moves through the world he rules and encounters the many ways in which a king is just as powerless as any human. The king declares again and again that he is king, but things like the ocean are not impressed and others like the queen bee assert their own authority over his. Other times, the king is reminded of more important things than power, like spending time in the sunshine, letting the rain wash over his face, and the importance of the stars in the sky.

This lovely picture book is stunningly effective. The short stories are wonderfully brief, all of them less than half a page of text. Each is profound in its own way, showing the importance of the here and now, the limitation of personal power over the universe, and a quiet acceptance of the way things simply are. Translated from the German, the short stories keep their quiet power and their truth.

Erlbruch’s illustrations are delightfully childlike and yet sophisticated too. The King is drawn as a cutout of construction paper drawn on with what looks like crayons. The background he is against in each dual page spread changes, sometimes with elegant vintage prints, other times with the blue of the sea and still others with the simplicity of white snow.

A completely surprising and amazing picture book, this one is perfect for sharing whether with one child or many and looking forward to the discussions it generates. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

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