Tuesday, July 12, 2011

King Hugo's Huge Ego

A charmer about the follies of being a windbag.
Written and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen
Candlewick, 2011
$16.99, ages 3-6, 40 pages

A boastful king is brought down to earth by a maiden who zaps him with a curse that makes his head swell in Van Dusen's hilarious fairy tale.

With playful, clever rhymes and illustrations that pop, the two-time Caldecott winner introduces us to King Hugo, a tiny guy who's a glutton for gloating.

Though Hugo is only three foot three and requires a ladder to reach his throne, he thinks himself much loftier than anyone else.

He struts about, ordering gardeners to clip topiaries to his likeness and sculptors to top fountains with statues of himself in a cocky pose.

His subjects, all longer legged than he, are required to bow to the ground when he passes. For if they bowed at the waist, the king still couldn't look down at them.

And every Friday, King Hugo's guards herd his subjects to the base of his tower and force them to listen to him go on and on about how much the king adores himself and why they should too.

But then one day, as King Hugo's gold coach is rolling down the road from his castle, a maiden walking down the middle of the road refuses to step aside and bow to him.

The maiden, whose name is Tess, is carrying a heavy load of hay on her back and, clearly burdened by it, bluntly tells the king to "go around."

But the king cannot believe her impudence and after a bit of stammering (for no one stands up to him), barges on through.

"The king began to rant and rave / and spout and spit and sputter! / "ROLL ON!" he barked, and then they bumped / poor Tess to the gutter!"

Belly-down in a muddy stream, with a frog on her head, Tess casts her finger his way. Little does the king know, he's messed with a sorceress and while mired in the ditch, she's put a curse on him.

"A pox on you. O cocky king / in robes of ruby red. / Let's see if all your arrogance / can fit inside your head," she commands.

The next morning, the king gazes into his looking glass and like always, compliments himself, and his head swells just enough to make his crown feel tight.

But being the arrogant fellow that he is, he pays no mind to the swelling and continues to brag, oblivious to the obvious, that every word of adulation is cursed.

With every puffed-up word, his head gets bigger and bigger until one day he finds he can't fit through the castle door.

It's time for his weekly Speech of Adoration, and big head or not, he's determined to climb to his lofty tower to shoot off his mouth.

So he finds an open stair and lugs himself up and with feet dangling over the parapet, looks down on his subjects with an upturned nose.

Appearing as precarious as Humpty Dumpty, he acknowledges that his noggin is 10 times bigger and rather flippantly, that he doesn't know why.

Being too full of himself to think it could be a problem, he gloats about his head size and declares there is now more of him to adore.

But with every saccharine word, his head swells more and more until a squall comes from behind and catapults the king like a watermelon across the sky.

More head than body, he bounces down the hill from his castle, a pudgy, red-ripe noggin, until he plows into a giant grain stack.

It just happens to be Tessa's and she can't believe that even now this arrogant man can't see how wrong he's been.

So she yanks his ears and curls them back on themselves to play back every boastful word he's ever said.

Will it be enough to quiet him? But is a stiff lesson all she hopes to give?

Reminding us all what a kick it is to find a great picture book, Van Dusen bursts into the summer book scene with a lesson in the follies of being a windbag.

My youngest and I were were chuckling all the way through at the king trying to manage an enormous head and at Van Dusen's wry illustrations.

When the king's head bloats to a ridiculous size, an elastic strap similar to those used with party hats is added to keep his crown from sliding off his head.

And as King Hugo tries to ram his bulbous head through the castle door, in the distance gardeners reclip the topiaries to make his body much tinier than his head.

The moral of this delightful story? Even at his worst, a person still can turn himself around (and maybe even get the girl).

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