There have been a handful of fiction picture books since Trump was elected that address his temperament and personality. (Nonfiction children’s books about Trump make up another altogether complicated topic.) There was, for instance, Michael Ian Black’s A Child’s First Book of Trump, illustrated by Marc Rosenthal. Such parodies, purportedly for children, often hit a sour note for me. The Kirkus reviewer for Black’s book wrote that the book is “something of a one-joke pony that can’t compare to its inspiration’s seemingly endless capacity for self-parody and doesn't go nearly as far as it could or he does.” Yeah. That. (Can any book go as far as Trump does?)
Enter a new picture book import, coming to shelves next month, Raúl Nieto Guridi’s The King of Nothing. Originally published in Spanish in 2013 as El rey de nada, this English version was translated by Saul Endor. (Guridi, who publishes under merely his last name, started illustrating children’s books in Spain in 2010 and has, thus far, written or illustrated over thirty books.) Surely he didn’t have Donald Trump in mind when writing this book. It was first published before his presidency in a country well across the pond. But if he comes to mind for American readers while taking in the story of The King of Nothing, this wouldn’t surprise me at all. Could this import be a book that better addresses our bizarre President more than some of the parodies that have been written by American authors? Perhaps.
This is the story of a small, stout person, his crown so large it covers most of his face, who declares himself to be a great king. In fact, he declares himself to be Mimo the First. He may have an enormous castle and more than 150 horses he calls his own, but they are all in his head. Guridi’s minimalist illustrations depict Mimo’s environs in dotted lines to accentuate their imaginary status. One spread makes it look as if Mimo is riding astride one of his great horses, but lift up the onionskin-like paper (used in just this one spread) to see that only Mimo is illustrated upon it. Below that you can see the page on which the imaginary army marches behind Mimo in an imagined forest. Seeing only Mimo on this first layer of paper after you lift it is a striking (and funny) moment, one that accentuates the protagonist’s enormous ego.
This, to be clear, is not a part of the narrative that reflects Trump. He didn’t declare himself President. Sadly, he was voted in as such. But what does resonate is what we read next — that Mimo likes to parade across the kingdom so that his subjects can see how great he is and …
Come sunset he climbed to the top of the tallest tower and from there he surveyed the whole of the marvelous country over which he, and only he, held absolute dominion.
Mimo the First even talks strangely — once again, to underscore his greatness. He stresses every syllable that falls from his lips — he figures this is what kings do —and shouts regularly with indignation. (“Indignation, he knew, was just the thing for a king.”) We see his indignation in action when he finds a something in his kingdom of nothing. This doesn’t fit with how he sees things in his head. This something, a little red dot, is an unknown to him, and he isn’t fond of anything enigmatic over which he has no understanding or dominion. He assumes that “SOME-CUR-SED-WITCH” is responsible for the strange object.
It turns out that it’s a seed, and if you guessed that the flower that eventually blooms begets more seeds and they all spread and bright, beautiful flowers bloom in the kingdom of nothing, you’d be right. These flowers are able to grow tall, since Mimo is so unsettled by the presence of the red things that he flees in fear, locking himself up and sleeping away his worries (though there is a very funny moment where he attacks and tries to overcome a red, polka-dotted flower).
Does a parent need to read this to a child and turn it into a forced metaphor for our current President? Nope. Please don’t, in fact. This is a book that can be enjoyed on multiple levels anyway. The story offers readers, for one, a sort of philosophical conundrum: What does it mean to be the ruler of nothing?
But some parallels are there — at least they came to mind as I read — and, best of all, in the end the somethings (the fragrant flowers) stump Mimo the First. “There wasn’t much he could do except sit and watch and grin. Nothing more. Nothing less.”
Which is to say: Substance trumps ego. Damn skippy.
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.
THE KING OF NOTHING. Copyright © 2013 by Adriana Hidalgo editora. Translation copyright © 2018 by Saul Endor. Illustration reproduced by permission of the publisher, New York Review of Books, New York.