CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 15 . . . . March 20, 2009
Kenneth Oppel is one of Canada's most popular authors for children. His Silverwing trilogy and Airborn series are highly regarded, best-selling novels. Despite being best known as a novelist, Oppel has also enjoyed some success as a picture book author. His reputation will be enhanced with his latest picture book work, The King's Taster. In collaboration with the talented husband-and-wife illustration team of Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher, Oppel has produced an engaging, humorous story told from the perspective of a bespectacled Beagle dog named Max.
Max eats like a king because Max is, indeed, the king's taster. That is, Max gets to taste all of the food prepared for the king to ensure that the food is not poisoned. Max's owner is the best cook in the entire kingdom, and life seems as if it could not be better until, one day, a new king is coronated.
The new boy king is a fussy eater who refuses to eat the food set before him. "I will not eat this food!" the boy bellows. As a result, Max and the cook set out on a whirlwind worldwide search for foods that will be pleasing to the king's picky palate.
Oppel's word choices are precise and descriptive, with the clever use of alliterations adding a pleasing sound to the story. When meals were set before him, the king "picked and poked and puffed at his food until it was mushy and mucky and altogether mashed up." Elsewhere, in speaking of the cook, Max tells us "he chopped, he topped, and he tailed; he sliced and he stirred and he whisked." Oppel's playful, pleasant-sounding use of language works well when combined with Johnson and Fancher's artwork. The illustrators' somewhat irreverent portrayal of the king creates a delicious, fun taste for the book. Young readers and their parents will find it irresistible. Johnson and Fancher depict the king as a spoilt, freckle-faced, wild-haired, surly boy. The depiction of the boy sitting on his royal bed in his royal pyjamas (revealing a little of his royal bottom) is a delight.
The mixed media collage illustrations feature a heavy reliance on watercolour paintings. Throughout the book, Johnson and Fancher include a visually pleasing mix of bright colours, with purple (reflective of royalty) perhaps the predominant colour choice.
The artwork contains depth and texture. This is accented by the regal, patterned texture in many of the illustrations. Another noticeable feature of the artwork is the scribbled recipes that adorn various items in the illustrations, but especially the cook's white clothing.
Having read the book through to its conclusion, I enjoyed going back for a second helping. As I reread the story, it was fun to then note the playful clues to the king's problem that are suggested in the early illustrations of the king and his crown.
The Oppel-Johnson-Fancher collaboration works very well. The artwork adds action and detail to what is an already lively text. This is an enjoyable, playful book but it also conveys a worthwhile lesson about healthy and sensible eating. As such, parents are sure to celebrate The King's Taster in a manner that matches the enthusiasm of the young target audience for this book.
The King's Taster is a feast for the senses. The sound of Oppel's language is delightful, and the artwork is a visual treat. Readers will feast on this book over and over again.
Gregory Bryan lives in Winnipeg, MB, where he teaches children's literature classes in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba.
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