The Royal Raven.
Written and Illustrated by Hans Wilhelm.
Preschool - grade 2 / Ages 3 - 7.
CRACK! The egg popped open and out came Crawford. "Here I am!" he crowed. But there was no reply. His mother was out looking for food. He was all by himself. There was nobody to make a fuss about his arrival.
Then came an even bigger disappointment.
Crawford saw that he was a boring-looking raven, like all the others. Deep in his heart he felt he was special. He tried to show how different he was. "Look at me!" he said.
But nobody ever paid any attention.
POOR CRAWFORD THE CROW has an identity crisis. He longs to be a bird with more "razzle dazzle" than a plain black raven. He tries several ways to disguise his plainness, but when these attempts fail, he decides to do something drastic.
Deep in the forest he called upon an old woman who was known for her special powers. Crawford came right to the point: "I'll do anything for you if you can make me different. I want some color, some flash, some razzle dazzle!"
He cuts a deal, and once the magic words are spoken, Crawford transforms into a bird more gaudy than a peacock. After returning home to show off to the other ravens, he decides staying in the forest would be a waste of his beauty. So . . . he's off to the castle of the King.
Soon after his arrival, Crawford is spotted and captured by the princess. At first he loves the attention, but:
Unfortunately, the royal raven's table manners left much to be desired. He lost a great deal of his popularity when he caused a major ruckus in the royal dining room. He was ordered OUT!
Caged and ignored, he longs to fly free and join the other birds. One day he overhears the princess say that she wouldn't dream of releasing him, since his fancy feathers are one of a kind. "Suddenly Crawford understood what he had to do to gain back his freedom."
Hans Wilhelm based The Royal Raven on the story "The Little Grey Bird," which appeared in an earlier collection. Crawford's undoing is similar to the fate of the dog in Bill Peet's Wingdingdilly; "pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall," and the price of their fame and fortune is a cage.
Although readers may relate to Crawford's desire for attention, it's hard to sympathize his self-absorbed character. Sure, his mother was absent at his birth, but why wasn't she able to teach him that beauty is only skin deep when she returned?
And there's no indication of why, when he had everything going for him, Crawford "blew it" with his bad table manners. Also confusing is that his "friends" are all happy to see him return -- but Crawford never appeared to have any friends. His behaviour certainly didn't suggest that he bothered to socialize with his fellow "boring-looking" ravens.
The bargain he strikes with the witch (who is carefully never labelled as such) is also a little unbelievable. Crawford is willing to sell his soul for some special effects, and all the woman wants in exchange are three tail-feathers?
Fortunately, Wilhelm's illustrations convey the transformation with some artistic special effects. Similar to the flashy scales of Rainbow Fish (Marcus Pfister), Crawford's new feathers are accented with iridescent gold holographic foil. The rest of the characters appear in the artist's characteristically charming watercolour style.
Readers who like or need special effects will probably enjoy The (moralistic) Royal Raven. However, Wilhelm's Oh What a Mess, and I'll Always Love You have much stronger storylines. Still, this book would be an acceptable purchase for libraries.
A.Edwardsson works at a branch of the Winnipeg Public Library where she is in charge of the Children's department. She has a Bachelor of Education degree, Child Care Worker III certification and is a member of the Manitoba branch of the Canadian Authors Association.
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