A full three posts ago, I mentioned favorite children’s picture books. I had a list of seventeen titles.
Although in near-anguish over which one to select for sharing, I found an inner-child delight during the process. Young Chelsea skipped happily through the bookshelf of her mind, one of the most satisfying places a bibliophile may visit.
I also realized a great need: to share why each of these books made my favorites list.
In true personal fashion of impatience, I will begin sharing tonight by discussing King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub, by Audrey and Don Wood.
First, if I may, this author and illustrator couple is GENIUS. I find myself disappointed in many current authors and illustrators (looking at you, Mo Willems) because their artistry sucks (still looking at you, Mo).
Before the story of King Bidgood actually begins, on the page of acknowledgements and printing date that everyone usually skips, there’s a beautiful picture of a young boy hefting a dripping barrel up very small, stone steps. The load is clearly heavy, the boy is pulling a sort of amused/resigned expression, and steam and a bathing silhouette can be seen in the background tower.
What a setup.
My mother read us this story as children and we LOVED IT. I don’t even own it (yet), and can recite it by heart.
“Help! Help!” Cried the Page, when the sun came up. “King Bidgood’s in the bathtub and he won’t get out! Oh, who knows what to do?”
Beginning at sunrise, the Page begs the court with the same plea. Each time, someone comes forward with a new suggestion. And, in response, the king beckons that person to come and do that activity IN THE BATHTUB.
This sounds oddly erotic for a children’s book, you may think. It’s not. The proposed activities are: to battle, lunch, fish, and join a masquerade ball. The king does each of these in his half of the bathtub, with only his upper half exposed, with his poor court members getting soaked (and, out-battled and out-fished).
The illustrations -oh! The illustrations! I remember poring over the pictures as a child. Just as you think you’ve seen everything, you find: the knight’s toy soldiers wandering in opposite directions, the entire court on the lunchtime cake, and the duke’s bait crawling away down the side of the tub.
Each page is an exquisite, well-drawn, hilarious game of I Spy -with the quality of a Classical-era Norman Rockwell.
This book, of course, is not complete without its narrative. Here steps the literary magic of Audrey Wood. I also find myself continually disappointed in the text of current picture books (here’s where you shine, Laura Joffe Numeroff’s publishing house). Audrey, however, weaves a simple, funny, repetitive, ridiculous tale even young children can follow.
But, how does the king finally leave? You wonder. Who knows what to do?
I do! (I type, as the day grows late.) Read it, and find out for yourself!