If I Were King by Randa Handler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Being a Grandmother of a twelve means I read a lot of children's books. I normally don't post them to my various sites/blog since they are usually are all short and sweet however every once in awhile I come across a book that stands out and "If I Were King" by Randa Handler is one such book.
First thing I noticed is the cover of the book. It is brightly colored which is a real eye-catcher to children as well as adults and based on the cover chances are this book involves animals. I know you shouldn't judge a book by the cover but in this case that assumption is correct. This is indeed a book about animals, jungle animals to be more exact, and the very important lessons they learn as well as the new things about themselves and others that they discover. And to top it off, the brightly colored pictures aren't only on the cover, they are throughout the book depicting scenes of what is going on in the story. Not every page has them but there is one every couple or so pages and the picture is about half the size of a page. In other words, this is not a picture book, it is a story with pictures included and there is plenty of 'story' to this book. Don't get me wrong! I don't mean this book is long and boring, it isn't. It is very well done without any typos (at least I didn't notice them) and actually I found not only the lessons very beneficial but the way the author wrote these discoveries/lessons I found quite amazing.
The story is about how these animals are bored and unhappy, not noticing the wonders around them in their environment. They complain each day is the same as the last and how boring it is being stuck in this routine. So they play a game of pretending they were king of the jungle. Now of course the lion is already king of the jungle so there is no fun in that for him so he pretends he isn't. (After all, if you play a game of pretend and you are already who and what you are, there is no fun in it...no pretending.) As the story progresses the animals take turns having all the animals pretending to do as they do and discovering that it really wouldn't work out for all of them. They are each individuals and have their own abilities and uniqueness that are suited for them. For example, the monkey said if he were king then all the animals would do as he does and swing from trees with their tails. Naturally the elephant thought this would be painful.
Another important lesson in the story is "knowing your turf." When I read it, I thought what you are probably thinking right now, know your grounds/surroundings but in this case 'turf' is not a place. You will have to read the story to find out what is meant by 'knowing your turf' but I just wanted to comment on this because of the way the author approached this subject (Great advise!) was fascinating and unique. Job well done!
Now down to the nitty-gritty of my personal thoughts and observations on this book. The author has this book listed for an audience of preschool/pre-reader. I read the book to my grandchildren ranging in age of one and a half (yes, I know this is way too preschool but it wasn't like I could have him leave the room just because I was reading a book beyond his capabilities of understanding) to six years old (I know this is beyond a preschooler) and I found the following:
I could have been reading a phone book and he would have probably been just as happy although he did look at the pictures. So if you have this book and a young child like this, don't be afraid to read it to him even though he won't understand it for the most part, he loved the pictures and pointing out the "lion" which is one of his personal favorite animals since we watched "The Lion King" a million times.
Four-year-old (the target audience according to the author);
She understood the book (as I read I would stop every so often so we could discuss what happened in the book, their thoughts, and what they would do) although I can't help but feel that some of what the author tried to accomplish in the 'lessons' was lost simply because at the age of four, she isn't able to grasp some of these concepts since her social skills are limited. In other words, "friendship" is an abstract relationship to her and she doesn't understand/never experienced what a real friend is so 'knowing her turf' for her was somewhat lost. Not that I am saying that she was totally lost and didn't understand anything, she totally enjoyed the book and definitely understood some of it, if not most of it.
I found he had the best understanding of the book. I think this is due to him going to school and interacting with other children (other than his siblings) and understanding that there are some children you really like and others who you don't like due to various reasons. He has 'friends' so his understanding of all these lessons that the animals learned seemed much more in-depth as well as his understanding that he needs to find his turf.
To conclude my thoughts, I would expand the target audience from just preschool to go up to and include first graders because it is a shame for any of these lessons to be 'lost' simply because a child isn't able to grasp the lessons yet. For some children school is their first time being exposed on a regular basis to other children their own age and making friends. (Remember that some children are 'only' children and live in very rural areas where the nearest child can be several miles away so socialization/friendship skills don't really start until kindergarten starts.) So for this reason I highly recommend this book for preschool to first graders.
*I received a free copy of this book for my honest review. This in no way influenced my opinion of the book.
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