By Kate Beaton
Scholastic, Grades Pre-K to 5
Kate Beaton, best known for her side-splittingly snarky comics about moments in history or literature, branches off in a new direction with her children’s book King Baby. The drawing is simpler, she uses color, and its humor is gentler and more straightforward. This is appropriate because she’s writing for a different audience—not witty twentysomethings but preschoolers. And she knows how to read the room.
The first few pages chronicle the triumphant arrival of King Baby: The adoring visitors, the cute toys and outfits, and the joys of cuddling with this egg-shaped bundle of joy. “But your king also has many demands!” he reminds us, in a double-page spread that lists them: “Feed me!” “Burp me!” “Bounce me!” His attentive parents obey his commands and admire his achievements, looking a bit frazzled along the way. And slowly, King Baby morphs into a toddler—first he stretches, rolls, and finally crawls across the floor to get a toy, then he walks. In one wonderful two-page spread, Beaton shows him following a zig-zag path, a la Billy of the Family Circus, occasionally intersecting with a cat, and getting a little more grown-up looking at each stop. Just as the test of a good chef is whether they can make a simple omelet, the test of a good cartoonist is how they handle simple material. Beaton is superb, aging up her baby slowly and convincingly as he meanders across the page.
That’s all very well, but how is it to read aloud? Pretty good, I’d say. Although the drawings are simple, Beaton scatters many of them across the pages, so there are lots of things to point to. The language is simple, so early readers can read the story on their own, but it’s also emphatic enough that grownups can ham it up a bit when reading aloud.
At first glance, King Baby appears to be more picture book than comic: It has a larger trim size than most graphic novels, roman typeface rather than the stylized hand lettering of comics, and blocks of type that sit apart from the pictures. The drawings float free on the white page, unconstrained by panels. On the other hand, those drawings are often sequential, as in the fantastic sequence of the baby trying to get his toy: The baby is at one end of the two-page spread, the toy duck at the other, and in a sequence of horizontal bands, we see him tip over, wriggle, and squirm toward his goal. Beaton also makes use of word balloons from time to time.
Either way, this is an ideal book for reading aloud or independently. The baby is cute (despite having no neck) and the situations are funny and familiar to many children, especially those with a younger sibling on the way. Because as King Baby grows up and sets aside his crown, a new member of the royal family appears: Queen Baby.