Written by Jay Williams, Illustrated by Imero Gobbato
Parents Magazine Press, 1968
There are many nice things about being a king. But there is one very bad thing. That is, that it is very hard to find a job if you are out of work.
This castle contains: A king
King Zar has his kingdom stolen from him and takes his remaining possessions and goes in search of a new kingdom. He finds an axe stuck in a log, calling for help. He pulls the axe out and it turns into a man, who agrees to join King Zar’s quest. This happens five more times, with an elephant, a fire, a snake, a tree and a bumblebee. Each time, Zar helps them and each of them becomes a man who joins the king in his quest. Stopping for dinner, Zar hears about King Invictus, who is searching for a king to marry his daughter. Zar goes to talk to King Invictus and falls in love with the princess. King Invictus challenges him to three tasks to prove himself and, with the help of his new friends and their specific talents, he passes the tests and wins the princess. The king’s steward comments that it was the friends who actually passed the tests, but one of the friends points out that Zar proved himself a good king by leading them all.
This is a book that I read to my children and it was a family favorite. I’ve condensed the story above, but author Jay Williams takes his time telling this story, giving each of the six friends a striking personality that matches the physical traits they have. True, it makes this book a slow read, but it’s also an enjoyable one, so it likely will not be a problem for either you or your child. As he always does, Mr. Williams fills this story with rich descriptions of its characters and settings. I love the interaction between King Zar and his friends and we get to see how he earns their loyalty and friendship, which makes his story more compelling.
The illustrations, from artist Imero Gobbato, bring these characters even further to life. Mr. Gobbato was a gifted painter who studied in both Venice and his home town of Milan, Italy. He does such a remarkable job in his depictions of the six friends, including the little details that connect them to their original forms, yet still drawing them as individual people. For example, Agus, who was an elephant before King Zar saves him, becomes a large man with oversized ears and Bumble, the former bee, is a short man in a striped tunic and sword. As the group travels together, they pass over mountains and through beautiful scenery that is reminiscent of the regular paintings that Mr. Gobbato did when he wasn’t illustrating picture books.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that a good leader uses the special talents and attributes of everyone on his/her team and makes each of them a part of their success.