Probably best known for his imaginative picture books and for illustrating Jacqueline Wilson’s books, Nick Sharratt has just published his first novel, aimed at newly independent readers. This age group can be particularly hard to supply with good quality books. In the past the range has remained rooted in the Horrid Henry canon – but luckily for this new generation, there are now a whole host of beautifully illustrated great stories being produced so that the magic of reading continues from picture books into longer length novels (Mango and Bambang, Isadora Moon, Rabbit and Bear). One of the tricks with competent readers is to replenish the supply, whetting and sustaining their appetite for reading – and quickly; these enthusiastic readers can fly through books at the rate of one a day (although often coming back and re-reading to soak up the content and pore over the illustrations).
Nick Sharratt’s offering ticks all the boxes needed for this age. A well-paced enthralling story, plays-on-words, plentiful humour, great vocabulary, and of course overflowing with brilliant illustrations that enhance the story and add extra dimensions to it. The story is so well laid out that there are not only illustrations on each page, but on some pages illustrations to accentuate each phrase.
The king’s castle has burned down in an Unfortunate Incident with a dragon. Together with his cat, he must find a new home and a new way of life, seeing as all his servants took the opportunity to flee during the Unfortunate Incident. What follows is an account of a king transported from his comfort zone, and the unfailing loyalty and friendship of his most clever cat, without whom it seems, he would be truly lost.
There are so many praise-worthy elements to this book – from the easily absorbed and readable opening:
“Once upon a time there was a king who lived in a rather grand castle, with his best friend, the cat.”
to Sharratt’s constant references to the new experiences the king is having, as well as the cat attempting to provide a semblance of familiarity to their routine:
“As the bus set off, they heard a clock somewhere striking eleven. They might not have a marching band, but at least they were in a good place for the king to do some waving, which he now did most graciously to the passers-by on the pavement below.”
Sharratt is great at providing reader-impetus in his books. You cannot read the book without becoming fully involved. Drawing on previous ideas from books such as You Choose, Sharratt has provided illustrations of all the houses the king and the cat look at before they settle on the perfect fit, as well as illustrations of their possessions, and what they buy on their shopping trips.
He also plays with the idea of the king’s servants doing extra jobs, both whilst they were servants, and the jobs they do afterwards – so that the reader can spot the same person dressed differently. It’s rather good fun.
Despite having a royal person – although doubts are cast on his actual royalty – the picture book is modern and up to date – our friendly cat is often spotted with his laptop. Moreover, Sharratt plays with the idea of royalty and words – at first the king and the cat only buy items at the supermarket that seem related to them:
“frozen KING prawns, Jersey ROYAL potatoes, CORONATION chicken sandwiches…”
And added to all this interactivity and play with stories, text and illustrations, are the wonderful personalities of the cat and the king, each with their own foibles and senses of humour, and yet a great partnership – they do truly care for each other – providing a shining example of friendship.
Children can absorb the message behind the story easily – that it is best not to be so pampered that a person can’t do anything for themselves – in fact they will delight in being able to accomplish tasks that the king himself can’t.
Illustrated in two colours, this is a sweet, warm and wryly funny story. For reading together and discussing, or reading alone. You can buy it here.