The cook and the king by Julia Donaldson
Ill. by David Roberts. Macmillan Books, 2018. ISBN 9781509813773
(Age: 4+) Highly recommended. Themes: Humour. Fears. Cooking. Food preparation. Medieval history. Castles. How wonderful to read and look at a very funny picture book. So many coming across my desk at the moment are portentous and heavy-handed, trying to address an issue (mainly mental health) in a didactic and preaching way. So this book is a breath of fresh air: funny, beautifully illustrated, with an whiff of irony about the cook's dealings with the king that is frankly delicious. The king wants a new chef, one who can cook what he really wants, but there is no one to be found. He rejects all applicants, until Wobbly Bob turns up, self deprecating and anxious about his inability to do what the king wants. But his anxiety is not the core of the book. The core is humour, laughing at the king wanting things to be just so, that by the end he has done all the preparation and cooking himself. Wobbly Bob didn't have to worry at all, because telling the king how worried he was about going fishing or digging up the potatoes, or using a knife or frying something over a fire, he was able to extricate himself from the task, leaving the king to do it himself. And of course the king thinks his meal the best ever and offers Bob the position.
Readers will laugh out loud at the situation and its conclusion, revelling in Bob's inabilities and the way he was able to manipulate the king into doing the work. The repetition is infectious, the rhyme encouraging children to predict what word will end each line, and the illustrations are just wonderful.
The medieval background gives a lot of information to readers about that period of time: costume, castles, kitchen and cooking, while the opening page with its unicorn tapestry is eye popping. Each page gives another humorous situation and the looks on the faces of the king and his subjects are wonderful. And kids will just love Bob's wobbly hat, which may lead kids to ask about his trousers and other accoutrements of his trade.