We love violence!
Come on! Be honest, now! We absolutely love murder, explosions and fights with all manner of weapons and super powers. After all, our biggest Hollywood blockbusters celebrate superheroes. Cop shows dominate prime time. Murder mysteries have all but swallowed up the best-seller lists for adult fiction. And Young Adult best sellers? Now you’re looking at the ultra-violent Hunger Games, the Twilight Saga and all manner of mayhem.
But, stop and think for just a moment about a child you love. Perhaps your own. Perhaps a grandchild. Perhaps a child you teach in pre-school or Sunday school. What stories do you want to lovingly share with them?
At ReadTheSpirit, our readers always thank us for spotting picture-book treasures like the Mouse and Bear series or Bob Graham’s startling A Bus Called Heaven or Ted Kooser’s haunting A House Held Up by Trees. We all know that these books are as much for the delight of the adults who buy them as they are for the children who first hear someone read the text. With repeat readings, these picture books can become a beloved part of an adult’s life story. As Editor of ReadTheSpirit, I’ve been a tough-minded journalist all my life, but the most precious corner of my extensive library is the little shelf holding a dozen dog-eared picture books published in the 1950s.
King Arthur’s Very Great Grandson knits together all of these threads: an echo of the stirring tales of brave knights and magical challenges, a gorgeously illustrated picture book format and a surprisingly peaceful message that families can share through the years.
What is the message? I don’t think it’s spoiling this short tale to say that the heavily armed young knight in this story charges into one life-changing surprise after another. He confronts some of the world’s greatest demons: a “terrible Dragon” (there are also many friendly dragons in world literature), “the dreaded Cyclops” (taking us all the way back to Greek epics), a “grim Griffin” (complete with twisted claws perfect for slaughtering its prey), and even “Leviathan” (who the Bible calls “the coiling serpent,” “the monster of the sea” and a creature so fearsome that anyone who wakes the beast will surely curse his fate forever.)
Horrors!!! Shudder!!! One can feel the reader of this book pitching the voice deeper and drawing out the lines in ominous suspense. The pages flip ever so slowly. Will blood spill? Will our hero survive? Instead, our young knight discovers quite the opposite of violence in some creatively twisted encounters.
Perhaps there’s something in our origins that moves an author and artist like Kraegel to craft a book like this—and me, as a reviewer, to notice the book’s genius. (And I’m not alone in my praise, by the way. The New York Times also highlights and recommends this book!) Kraegel was born in Mishawaka, Indiana, and I was born just to the east of him—just past Elkhart, Goshen and Shipshewana—in LaGrange. That’s Amish country. And, while enjoying Kraegel’s book, I began to wonder if some of that region’s Anabaptist pacifism rubbed off on us from our births. In any case, despite this heroic young knight’s blood-dripping and flesh-ripping heritage—something peaceful and graceful is born within him in these pages.
There’s more in this creative mix than origins, though. I should underline that all of the books I have mentioned in this review come from the bright minds at Candlewick Press, surely a publishing house that must feel like heaven to first-time authors like Kraegel. Candlewick has a strong taste for producing peacefully twisted books like these—and bravo to the crew for thinking like that.
Now, it’s your turn: Don’t wait. Not all picture books remain on sale forever. Tell a friend about this review. Share the news on Facebook. Snap this book up now, as it is debuting on Amazon. Then, you’ll have many years to read and savor it as a dog-eared gem in your own favorite corner of the family bookshelf.
Review by ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm
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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.