I’ve been meaning to review this book ever since I first saw it last year. As it’s Earth Day on Sunday, and as a pigeon that travels between sunny, southern Italy and a bleak, northern town that smells of coal dust is the title character, I thought it was a Perfect Picture Book for today:
Title: King of the Sky
Written By: Nicola Davies
Illustrated By: Laura Carlin
Publisher/date: Candlewick Press/2017
Suitable for Ages: 4-8
Themes/Topics: immigrant, intergenerational, homing pigeons; home; loneliness
It rained and rained and rained. Little houses huddled on the humpbacked hills. Chimneys smoked and metal towers clanked. The streets smelled of mutton soup and coal dust and no one spoke my language.
Brief Synopsis: A young immigrant is befriended by an elderly neighbor who shares his knowledge and love of homing pigeons, and helps him settle into his new home.
Links to Resources:
- Discover homing pigeons;
- Find Wales and Italy, the two places where the narrator has lived, on a map of Europe;
- Map a route between home and school, or to a friend’s or relative’s house;
- The narrator misses gelato from his home in Italy. Draw a picture of a favorite food you missed when you traveled or moved;
- Find more ideas in the Teachers’ Notes.
Why I Like this Book:
King of the Sky is a lovely picture book that will help children gain empathy for newcomers to their school or neighborhood and that will offer hope to children who are migrants or have recently moved.
The narrator, an unnamed Italian boy who has moved from a southern land of sun, fountains and gelato to a northern land of chimneys, towers and coal mines, finds pigeons there that remind him of home. He gradually learns English from their owner who, after a “lifetime working in a coal mine” speaks “slow enough” for the narrator to understand. I love how the two become friends, bonding over their love of pigeons, and that each brings something to the intergenerational relationship: The “crumpled,” weakening Mr. Evans shares his language and pigeon-racing knowledge with the narrator as the narrator takes over the pigeon racing tasks. That an elderly, working class man shares his passion with a young immigrant is especially poignant, given the immigration debates in many regions today. It’s also very moving that the aptly-named pigeon, King of the Sky, travels to the narrator’s beloved Italy, but then finds his way home to the boy in the gritty, coal-filled village.
Carlin’s dreamy, mixed-media illustrations switch from landscapes to small vignettes, at times focusing in on small details, while at other times soaring at pigeon-level above the action. King of the Sky is 42 pages, and includes five wordless spreads, plus 16 other wordless pages.
A Note about Craft:
Davies tells King of the Sky using first-person point of view. As is evident from the very descriptive opening, this point of view helps draw the reader into the story, to stand in the narrator’s shoes, to feel the sadness of no one speaking his language, of not belonging. Interestingly, the point of view changes to third person on the last page, perhaps to allow the reader to step back and leave the narrator’s world, happy to see that he now belongs.
In the opening scene, Davies utilizes descriptive, lyrical language to show the perceived bleakness of the narrator’s new home: the repetitive rain, “houses huddled”, smoking chimneys and towers that “clanked.” She even brings in smells, of acrid coal dust and mutton soup, which must have been a huge disappointment compared to the “vanilla smell of ice cream in my nonna’s gelateria” that the narrator mentions later in the story.
Finally, as is evident from the many themes and topics listed above, King of the Sky is a multi-layered picture book: the story of an immigrant adjusting to life in a new country; an intergenerational story, with a weakening, presumably soon-to-be-dying older man; a story about pigeons, that find their way home; a story of contrasts between a sunny, southern country and a bleak, northern region.
Visit Davies’ website to see more of her books. Visit Carlin’s website. King of the Sky was named a New York Times Best Illustrated Book of 2017.
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!