I’m going to admit something that it’s not wise for me to admit. I get a whole heapin’ lot of review copies of picture books, and every now and then—though, to my credit, this happens very rarely—a box or two will get lost in the mix and remain unopened for entirely too long. This happens when you’re drowning in picture books. (To be clear, for someone like me, drowning in picture books is a great problem to have.)
This is the case with Rukhsana Khan’s King for a Day, illustrated by Christiane Krömer, released by Lee & Low Books. When I eventually tripped over the box in which it came and looked to see what was inside, I was a) in for a wonderful surprise, since it’s a great book, and b) I got a little twitchy at the thought that I could have been enjoying it longer. But let’s not dwell on that. The good news is that I finally found it.
This is the story of Basant, which is a festival celebrated all across South Asia, as the book’s opening note explains. Khan takes us right to the city of Lahore, Pakistan, where a young boy, who happens to be in a wheelchair, is preparing for the festival. It is his point of view from which this story is told. Never is the fact that he’s in a wheelchair a Big Deal or a Huge Plot Point or a Reason to Teach Us a Message, which is refreshing. During Basant, many people head to their rooftops with kites, all in the name of celebrating spring, and engage in kite-flying battles.
The boy is ready. He secures the help of his siblings, and he’s determined to become king of Basant. His goals are very specific, too. There is a bully next door. In the past, he’s hit our protagonist, and he’s thrown stones at his sister. The boy sets out to beat this bully in the kite-flying competition. Never is this neighbor redeemed, which I also find refreshing. Some people are just mean, and in the words of the popular mid-‘90s bumper sticker, mean people suck.
His neighbor’s kite is so big that our narrator dubs it “Goliath.” His own kite, smaller but “built for speed,” he calls Falcon. After the kites leap into the sky, our narrator’s kite string rubs the bully’s kite string, and snip, the bully is out of luck. His kite flies free. In a closing note, which provides more information about the festival itself, the author describes how in the past many kite strings were coated with powdered glass to cut through others’ kite strings. Later, metal strings were put to use. This caused injuries, however, and resulted in the festival being banned in recent years, though it returned in 2013.
The boy and his sister continue to compete against the other kites. In one spread, we see a sky full of them: large, small, ornate and simple. They all soar through the air, and it’s a wondrous spread, full of color and movement. Later, the boy engages in an act of kindness when he sees the angry neighbor push a young girl to the ground.
“Exquisite” is the word the official Kirkus review uses to describe the mixed-media collages of Christiane Krömer. That pretty much nails it. This is the first time I’ve seen her artwork, though it’s not her first published picture book, and her textured, lively illustrations nearly leap off the pages. She uses fabrics, yarn, cut and torn paper, ribbons, strings, what look like pencil drawings, and much more. She also puts to use varied perspectives; in one of the closing spreads, we see the narrator looking down from the rooftop to see the neighbor bully the young girl. It’s a visually engaging book, and Krömer is an illustrator to keep an eye on.
A triumphant tale of the king of the skies. Thank goodness I finally opened that package.
KING FOR A DAY. Copyright © 2013 by Rukhsana Khan. Illustrations copyright © 2013 by Christiane Krömer. Published by Lee & Low Books, New York. Spread reproduced by permission of the publisher.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.