Andersen’s classic tale gets a humorously “cool” update in an imaginary land in which emperor penguins, polar bears, seals, walruses and albatross coexist.
The emperor, fighting childhood memories of being teased, decides that once he becomes ruler he will achieve total coolness. His wardrobe is the means to his end, but coolness is deeper than fabric. Dissatisfied with the offerings in the local clothing shops (Cold Navy, Albatross & Fish), it is no surprise when a new shop, Two Rogues Cool Clothes, catches his eye. The two rogues promise clothing invisible to anyone not as cool as the emperor, setting in motion the lies that lead to his naked parade. As in the original, the ending is a bit abrupt. Harper’s version also adds a bit of ambiguity as to what the emperor may have learned from this experience. But while the ending may leave readers with a less-than-cool impression, the illustrations just may make up for it. Humorous details are scattered throughout, some seemingly for the benefit of adult audiences. He uses bright colors in his watercolor-and-pencil artwork and ably conveys the sad fact that the emperor’s clothes, no matter how nice, cannot mask his lack of cool.The visual humor makes this a winner, and adults will appreciate the easy segue into conversations about honesty and what defines “cool” that are sure to follow. (author’s note) (Picture book. 4-8)