three Image Books Get the Royal Therapy

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3 Picture Books Get the Royal Treatment

WHERE’S THE DRAGON?
From Leo Timmers

PRINCESS ARABELLA IN THE MUSEUM
From Mylo Freeman

THE KING’S GOLDEN BEARD
From Klaas Verplancke

If you’ve just woken up from a year-long slumber, you might mistake the bright masks the kids wear when they come out of our neighborhood public school in the afternoon for a costume, maybe a play called “The Very Silent Day” . I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a child during a pandemic as an invisible virus is holding the seams of our days, weeks and months and undoing them before they occur. Now it feels like a good time for children’s books breaking the spell of certainty and celebrating the unknown.

In Leo Timmer’s “Where’s the Dragon?” A king is “afraid to go to bed” because “a nightmare dragon fills his head”. Three knights move across the rectangular book, which when opened offers a panoramic horizon. The littlest, bravest knight goes ahead with a candle holder, flickering each side from light to shadow and vice versa. The effect is magical. You need to know and not know (depending on which of the three knights you are) whether the fear is real or a trick of the light, whether in the darkness the dragon’s teeth or just the beaks of sleeping birds are in silhouette.

At almost every corner, fear and her fall happen at the same time. When the knights set out to answer the king’s demand for “Save the kingdom! But mostly me. “The ground beneath your feet is constantly changing. At one point, plants that look like tiny hands or tiny crowns sprout out of the ground.

Are they real knights at all or are they traveling through his nightmare in the king’s head? What part of us do we command to leave when we are afraid? And will these parts ever return?

Timmers Dragon recalls Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwock, in which both monsters have a touch of sucker, reminding us that sometimes fear is more violent than the monster we expect around the corner. This dragon doesn’t whistle and babble like the Jabberwock, but floats sleepily through the air. His fire illuminates a double page with the inscription: “There is no dragon that takes wings. The king is safe. … “Isn’t the dragon the dragon? Or is what we fear not to fear a real dragon?

“Where’s the dragon?” is a beautiful, unsolvable puzzle about fear, its manifestations, and what it means to try to conquer what may not have the intention of ever causing harm.

Mylo Freeman’s “Princess Arabella in the Museum” (her sixth book about the princess) also weaves the boundaries between inside and outside. Arabella invites her friends of princes and princesses to her “own” museum, which from the outside looks like Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Bilbao, if it’s shaped like an elephant, and from the inside like a tour of the mind of a brilliant child.

Princess Arabella is a modern art creature. Not only does her dress come straight from a Mondrian painting, but the black dots of her avant-garde afro float between Yayoi Kusama’s characteristic dots, as if Kusama had painted them himself. She recognizes her parents in a Kehinde Wiley-style portrait and later sees her mother’s face and her own, both painted light blue, in Aida Muluneh portraits.

“My father says it is possible to disappear into a painting,” observes her friend Princess Ling, but Princess Arabella undermines this idea: instead of disappearing into masterpieces, she finds where she belongs, as does her guests. Even Louise Bourgeois’ giant spider Maman, whom Prince Jonas calls “a monster”, becomes a kind of mother for the children when they climb and dance around their legs and imagine they are “their baby spiders”. If there is a lesson here, it is that every masterpiece is an ancestor of a child’s imagination.

Klaas Verplancke’s “The King’s Golden Beard” begins “a long, long time ago”, as most fairy tales do. But as the story unfolds, what might once have been “a long time ago” seems eerily not that long ago. The setting of this fairy tale about a vain king who forbids anyone but him to grow a beard feels as much as a barely framed future as it does an ancient past.

“Anyone who dared break the law and let a single tiny hair grow on their face would be cut into a thousand pieces with tricky nail scissors!” Even brooms and brushes have to give up their bristles. Even the cat has to lose its whiskers and the goat its beard; Even facial hair on royal portraits needs editing. The stick figure guards who enforce this edict, when viewed in three groups, formulate the LAW (flipped) – all angles and lines, with the exception of their helmets, which resemble dense fingerprint marks, transformed the characters of individuals into clothing to serve a king.

The king’s beard grows and grows like a virus, “buzzes” and “falls”, crawls and wanders into the most remote corners of the country. By the time it reaches penguins on an iceberg (maybe in Antarctica?) The book has to be turned upside down because although the king believes the world is flat, it is round.

In fairy tales, the king’s mind-boggling (in this case hair-raising) decree often fails against his daughter, and the next thing you know is an ogre pulling the princess away to live with him in a world dark as a chimney is clogged. In Verplancke’s story, the king’s decree hits back on the king, whose vanity shakes him. The last spread is my favorite as a security guard sweeps the beard out of the book with a broom that gets its bristles back.

Sabrina Orah Mark, a poet and short story writer, writes the Happily column on fairy tales and motherhood for The Paris Review.

WHERE’S THE DRAGON?
From Leo Timmers
40 S. Gecko. $ 17.99.
(4 to 6 years)

PRINCESS ARABELLA IN THE MUSEUM
From Mylo Freeman
32 S. Cassava Republic. $ 16.95.
(4 to 8 years)

THE KING’S GOLDEN BEARD
From Klaas Verplancke
48 pages Maria Russo / Minedition. $ 18.99.
(4 to 8 years)

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