TALE OF THE SHADOW KING

From the Prince & Knight series , Vol. 2

Prince and knight return to take on an evil adversary.

This sequel to Prince & Knight (2018) picks up after the prince and knight’s wedding day and begins with a coronation (but, a little puzzlingly, the prince is never referred to as a king). The two men’s love “inspired everyone in sight,” but soon a “fog of darkness” descends upon the realm. Daylight disappears. The crops suffer blight. The prince gravely tells his husband, “We must face this threat tonight!” The pair consults with the kingdom’s “wise old sage,” who sends them to find the Shadow King, whose “soul is filled with rage.” After “trudging through the wilderness,” the prince and knight make it to the Shadow King’s fortress and best his army of monsters. Eventually, they reach the Shadow King and help repair the harm that resulted from his evil ways. With rich colors and cinematic sequences, Lewis’ animation-inflected art shines in this fantastical tale. Whereas in the first book knight rescued prince, the reverse happens here—a delightful counterpoint to heteronormative gender roles. Though excellent in its positive depiction of queer heroes, the book’s heavy-handed message is made worse by Haack’s awkward, rhyming text. Aside from the brown-skinned knight, the royal family presents White. Supporting characters add additional racial diversity. With the addition of the Shadow King and his squire, the story moves from tokenization toward a sense of queer community. (This book was reviewed digitally with 8.3-by-19.6-inch double-page spreads viewed at 56% of actual size.)

Pretty but preachy. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: April 27, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-4998-1121-6

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Little Bee Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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A charming blend of whimsy and medieval heroism highlighting the triumph of brains over brawn.

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KNIGHT OWL

A young owl achieves his grand ambition.

Owl, an adorably earnest and gallant little owlet, dreams of being a knight. He imagines himself defeating dragons and winning favor far and wide through his brave exploits. When a record number of knights go missing, Owl applies to Knight School and is surprisingly accepted. He is much smaller than the other knights-in-training, struggles to wield weapons, and has “a habit of nodding off during the day.” Nevertheless, he graduates and is assigned to the Knight Night Watch. While patrolling the castle walls one night, a hungry dragon shows up and Owl must use his wits to avoid meeting a terrible end. The result is both humorous and heartwarming, offering an affirmation of courage and clear thinking no matter one’s size…and demonstrating the power of a midnight snack. The story never directly addresses the question of the missing knights, but it is hinted that they became the dragon’s fodder, leaving readers to question Owl’s decision to befriend the beast. Humor is supplied by the characters’ facial expressions and accented by the fact that Owl is the only animal in his order of big, burly human knights. Denise’s accomplished digital illustrations—many of which are full bleeds—often use a warm sepia palette that evokes a feeling of antiquity, and some spreads feature a pleasing play of chiaroscuro that creates suspense and drama.

A charming blend of whimsy and medieval heroism highlighting the triumph of brains over brawn. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: March 15, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-31062-8

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Christy Ottaviano Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2022

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Action, clever humor, delightful illustrations and expectation-defying secret identities—when does the next one come out?

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THE PRINCESS IN BLACK

From the Princess in Black series , Vol. 1

Perfect Princess Magnolia has a secret—her alter ego is the Princess in Black, a superhero figure who protects the kingdom!

When nosy Duchess Wigtower unexpectedly drops by Princess Magnolia’s castle, Magnolia must protect her secret identity from the duchess’s prying. But then Magnolia’s monster alarm, a glitter-stone ring, goes off. She must save the day, leaving the duchess unattended in her castle. After a costume change, the Princess in Black joins her steed, Blacky (public identity: Frimplepants the unicorn), to protect Duff the goat boy and his goats from a shaggy, blue, goat-eating monster. When the monster refuses to see reason, Magnolia fights him, using special moves like the “Sparkle Slam” and the “Twinkle Twinkle Little Smash.” The rounded, cartoony illustrations featuring chubby characters keep the fight sequence soft and comical. Watching the fight, Duff notices suspicious similarities between the Princess in Black and Magnolia—quickly dismissed as “a silly idea”—much like the duchess’s dismissal of some discovered black stockings as being simply dirty, as “princesses don’t wear black.” The gently ironic text will amuse readers (including adults reading the book aloud). The large print and illustrations expand the book to a longish-yet-manageable length, giving newly independent readers a sense of accomplishment. The ending hints at another hero, the Goat Avenger.

Action, clever humor, delightful illustrations and expectation-defying secret identities—when does the next one come out? (Fantasy. 5-8)

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7636-6510-4

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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