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There is a wonderful bookshop near me where I spend a lot of my time (and a great deal of money). It is hidden down a side street and you have to get down a really steep flight of steps into a cellar to get there, so its pretty much guaranteed to be frequented only by people who know it and love it. Its an Aladdins cave of second hand books and its where I source most of my reading material. They have a smallish section of childrens books and I usually settle my toddler daughter down there whilst I investigate the shelves. Last time we were there I noticed my daughter was unusually quiet and when I went over to look she was engrossed in this book. I didnt get a good look as she clutched it tightly in her little hands and demanded that we take it to the man (who always gives her a discount!) and buy it. Once home I was delighted to see that this is a book I fondly remember from my childhood and had been actively searching for, hampered by the fact I couldnt remember the name of the main character.
David Mckee is the author of many childrens books including the Elmer series and the classic Not now, Bernard!. His King Rollo series of books have been going for over twenty years and their enduring nature is testament to his skill at writing and illustrating books that appeal to the under-fives and their parents.
**********The layout and illustrations*************
This 32 page book is beautifully laid out and illustrated. The front cover is bright and appealing, featuring all the main characters of the stories .King Rollo, Hamlet the cat, Queen Gwen, the magician and the cook. The pages are laid out in a cartoon style, with four bright and interesting pictures to a page. Under each picture are a few simple, short sentences explaining the story, enough to make it enjoyable and easy to read to younger children but not in quantities that would put off those who are learning to read. King Rollo and the other characters are simply drawn and sometimes oddly proportioned, but my daughter has taken a real shine to these characters. They are warm, appealing and amusing and obviously made an impact on me as I remembered them and the stories after more than twenty years (just not their names!).
This book contains four of the King Rollo stories, which are designed to not only be entertaining but also to teach children life skills.
King Rollo and the New Shoes:
King Rollo has just bought his very first pair of lace-up shoes. He asks the magician to give him a spell to help him tie up his shoes, but the magician refuses. Instead he shows King Rollo how to tie his laces, gives him a little rhyme to help him and sends him off to practice. King Rollo gets very frustrated but eventually manages to tie his shoes in time for a visit from his friend Queen Gwen.
This is a really lovely little story to encourage and teach children to lace up their shoes themselves. The magician takes a familiar parental role and reminds the King that there will not always be someone there to do his shoes up for him and encourages him to practice. It is made clear that somethings are not always easy (King Rollo has a tantrum or two learning which my daughter loved!) but ultimately with practice and patience most things are achievable. There are diagrams of how to tie a shoe and the little accompanying rhyme will, Im sure, be useful to us in a few years time!
King Rollo and the Birthday:
It is Queen Gwens birthday and King Rollo goes to the shop to buy the nicest birthday card he can find. When he sits down to write in it the cook points out that it isnt a very special card and tells him to draw one himself. King Rollo tries and tries but isnt very impressed with his efforts. The magician eventually encourages him to send his best effort and he goes home to tidy up. When he arrives at Queen Gwens party the next day she is very pleased with his card, as everyone else has sent the shop bought card that the cook rejected.
Not only does this sweet little story encourage children to tidy up (thank you very very very very much David McKee!), but it shows children that something they have produced themselves and put lots of effort into is much more special than something that can be bought from a shop. I really enjoyed the whole anti-consumerist nature of this story and my daughter enjoyed the struggles of King Rollo to paint his picture. She also loved spotting Hamlet the cat mimicking King Rollo and following him around.
King Rollo and the Bread:
King Rollo and the magician go out for a walk and come across a farmer eating his lunch a solitary loaf of bread. King Rollo decides to show the farmer how clever his magician is and instructs him to turn it into various rich foods including chocolate cake and roast chicken. Each time the farmer asks for his bread back and explains that his wife makes it and its absolutely delicious. Once the bread is returned to the farmer they all sit down and share it for their lunch and agreeing that both the magician and the farmers wife are very clever.
This is my favourite story (probably because I enjoy making my own bread-see my previous breadmaker review!) as it illustrates the idea that sometimes the simplest foods can be more desirable than extravagant meals. The expressions on the farmers face are particularly well drawn and the ending is a friendly and satisfying one as they sit down and share the farmers lunch.
King Rollo and the Tree:
King Rollo is determined to climb to the top of the tree in the garden but the cook, the magician and Queen Gwen all tell him he shouldnt for various reasons. He ignores them and climbs right to the top. Once up there he slips and falls to the ground where his friends surround him and show him that all their predictions had come true (he fell, got his hands dirty and tore his clothes). But King Rollo is very pleased with himself as he had told them all he was going to climb to the very top and he DID!
This is my daughters favourite story. The language is simpler and more repetitive than in the other stories and the story is much easier to follow than the other three. I would imagine most children can identify with being told not to do something, doing it and then being told off! This reflects some of the consequences of doing what you shouldnt, but also some of the pleasures no wonder my daughter loves it! I found myself smiling at this story, it really is a little gem.
These stories are highly recommended for three to five year olds and children who are beginning to read. I remember liking these simple stories at infant school and used to read them to my younger brother, something these books lend themselves to very well. My daughter is not quite two and really enjoys these stories, so these books really have a very wide appeal.
As I said above I was looking for these books as I remember them so fondly from my childhood. Each little story has its own little lesson, but David McKee is not overly moral or hectoring in his presentation of these little lessons. I loved the cook and the magician providing the parental input, a different and refreshing approach and one that my daughter and I are enjoying together. The layout is innovative and draws your attention to the page and the stories are short enough to hold Olivias attention easily. It is one of the few books that she will sit and read on her own, even though the pages are difficult for her to turn without my help. The stories themselves are amusing and even though I have had to read this book for over a week, I havent considered hiding it yet (see previous review on Hug, another book which had a similar effect). I would thoroughly recommend this book to any parent with young children.
**************Price and availability********
I bought this for the grand sum of 2CHF (about 82p). Amazon.co.uk no longer stock it,but there are Marketplace versions available from £0.01. My copy was printed in 1999, but I havent been able to find any printed after 1986 on Amazon.
Also available are the Further Adventures of King Rollo. The publisher Random House has 2 King Rollo collections available on their website to buy at £4.99(but sadly not these stories)- http://www.randomhouse.co.uk/catalog/results.htm.
In this collection of four King Rollo stories, the King learns to tie shoelaces, expresses his artistic talent, bakes bread with friends and climbs trees - accompanied by his friends, the magician, Cook, Queen Gwen and Hamlet the cat.