Review Copy Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers
I love The Cook and the King by Julia Donaldson and David Roberts so much. It is the most pure and unadulterated fun I have personally had while reading a picture book aloud to my kids in ages. When we finished reading this book the first time – both of my children literally cheered and then asked me to read it again.
I felt so good after reading it – because it reminded me how much and why I love picture books so much. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read a lot of fantastic picture books lately. I have a whole stack I’m working through and whole other stack coming for review. There are so many amazing ones, inspirational ones, gorgeous ones, encouraging ones, important and serious ones, dynamic ones, informative ones – but pure, unadulterated, let’s-just-have-a-good-time-reading-a-picture-book-aloud-because-the-English-language-is-crazy-and-amazing one… it’s been awhile.
So what makes this picture book so great? So many things, but let’s start with the technical aspects. The rhythm, the pacing, and the perfect use of well-placed repetition. If you’re looking for an example of how to do this yourself, read this picture book.
Also, the faster you can read it the better. The rhythm and pacing are full of an exuberance and have this jovial bounce to it. The page turns are excellent and the way the volume builds while you’re reading it is so well done. The repetition happens so naturally that about halfway through the book, anyone within earshot starts joining in. Really, this book hits every single note just right.
Look how it begins:
There once was a very hungry king
Who needed a cook like anything.
So he tried out lots and lots of cooks
With their pots and their pans and their how-to-cook books.
From The Cook and the King by Julia Donaldson and Illustrated by David Roberts
See? And if you’re a theater person looking to work on your breathing, pacing, and variations in pitch – reading this book is a fantastic exercise. There are all sorts of levels to explore with it.
The storyline is fantastic, too. It’s about a king who thinks he needs a cook. Tons come to give it a try, but no one gets it right. Then the king sees another cook – Wobbly Bob. Wobbly Bob wants the job, but admits that he’s a bit of a wimp. The king thinks about it and says, let’s give it a try anyway.
The king says he wants fish and chips for dinner, can the cook go catch a fish? The cook makes an excuse why he can’t, so the king says he’ll do it. Then the king says that the cook needs to dig up the potatoes for the chips, but Wobbly Bob gives an excuse why he can’t do it. So the king does it. Then the cook’s supposed to cut up the potatoes, but Wobbly Bob gives another excuse why he can’t cut potatoes, so the king does it. Then the king asks him to fry and the cook gives an excuse… Right? You get the idea. (It’s exactly like trying to get your kids to do anything even remotely helpful around the house.) Finally, the cook and the king sit down to eat the meal that the king, unbeknownst to himself, made. The king enjoys the meal so much that he hires Wobbly Bob to be his cook, even though he’s the one that made it.
It’s brilliant, silly, ridiculous, and fun. Did I mention it’s a blast to read? Because it really is. A month later and my kids are reciting it at the dinner table, in the car, and randomly at the grocery store to strangers.
The Cook and the King pokes fun at itself, at people, at authority, at the excuses we make, at how the obvious thing can be so hard to see, and how we so easily give others credit for things we do ourselves — but that’s all secondary. The first and foremost agenda of this book is to have fun with language, to show us gorgeous illustrations, to make us laugh, and to enjoy the magnificence that is the picture book medium.
And if that’s not enough, each spread has a little mouse for the kids to find. Spoiler Alert (but not really): The last spread does not have the mouse – and that created quite the uproar with my kids and sent them into a very heated debate. The jury is still out on whether or not the cat ate the mouse or the mouse got away – so you’ll have to read it with your kids and weigh in on the debate.
Go read this wonderful, wonderful book aloud to someone you want to have a blast with! I sincerely hope you enjoy it as much as me and my family do.
And if you’re by chance looking for a storytelling piece for a high school forensics competition, I highly recommend taking a look at this one. I haven’t timed this piece – but if it’s too long, you could cut it in a few spots and not lose too much. And if you have a student that has so much energy they kind of almost bounce and pop when they perform in general – I would definitely recommend this piece for them. In the hands of the right performer – this book would be pure magic to witness.
Where Obtained: I received a review copy from the publisher. No other compensation was received. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
FTC Disclosures: Some of the links in the post above are Amazon affiliate links and others are IndieBound affiliate links. If you click on the link and purchase something, I will receive an affiliate commission at no additional cost to you. Which goes to fund my family’s picture book habit. It’s a vicious cycle, but we manage. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”