The little king was always grumpy. 'I am fed up with being the little king of a tiny nation!' he shouted. 'I want to rule over an enormous country and be famous!'
So the little king decided to start a war. But it didn't quite work out the way he planned.
Michel Streich's witty text and amusing illustrations make this a perfect picture book for parents and children to share.
Michel Streich started his artistic career in his native Germany. He worked as a freelance illustrator in London for several years, finally basing himself in Australia in 2000. Michel works mainly as an editorial and book illustrator. His drawings have featured in publications such as the Times, the Financial Times, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Financial Review.
Michel lives in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney.
Discussing conflict with young children can be difficult. Whether it be on a global scale in the arena of international politics or more simply taking sides in the playground argument, conflict is an unfortunate but inevitable part of life. To ignore the issues is not to present children with strategies to cope with them, particularly when it comes to bullies and dealing with bullying. Michel Streich’s delightful new book, Grumpy Little King, however, tackles the issues head on. Streich presents his young audience with an empowering strategy: we can choose not to support a bully. If enough people say ‘No Way!’ to bullies, we can make a difference.
Streich’s narrative is a simple but clear fable. The little king is continually grumpy because he wants to be more important and more powerful. He is advised to start a war, so choosing a suitable enemy, he arms his people, turning them into soldiers with promises and speeches. However, when the soldiers of both armies realise their kings are cowards and will not fight their own battles, they see through them, pack up and head home. While nothing has changed for the grumpy little king – he is still little and he is still grumpy – everything has changed for the people. They have opted for peace.
The book features Streich’s quirky illustrations, full of lively black outlines and a limited colour palette of yellow, red, steel blue and dark khaki. An observant child may notice that the soldiers of both armies are identical but for the colour of their uniforms. Grumpy Little King does also include drawings of guns and tanks which, together with the concepts involved, would make it more suitable for middle primary and above, rather than for the very young child. Streich does not avoid the subject of war but rather presents, in this heartwarming little tale, a message of hope.
Jo McDougall, Geelong, VIC
In his attempt to become “famous and rule over an enormous country”, the grumpy little King follows the suggestions of his advisors. He decides to begin a war, hence making his kingdom bigger and simultaneously becoming world famous himself. Together with his general, he chooses an enemy and then purchases all of the equipment necessary to fight a battle. Men from all sorts of backgrounds are drilled to become soldiers and become widely respected and recognised. Only when the armies are about to head into battle do things begin to go wrong for the two kings who are nowhere to be seen. Grumpy Little King tells the story of the futility and stupidity of war and the apparent lack of reasoning behind such battles. In this tale, there is no logic in the selection of the enemy, the little king’s “lanky cousin”, apart from the fact that he rules a nearby country. The onus is placed entirely on the grumpy little king and his ego.
Streich’s narrative is simple and concise, cleverly placed aside the predominantly white backgrounds and simple cartoon style illustrations. A limited colour palette of muted beige, red, blue, gold and olive accentuates the simplicity of the line drawings. The soldiers, identical in shape and distinguishable only by their different coloured uniforms, ensure that the reader cannot be drawn to taking sides. One can only cheer when the kings get their comeuppance, as the soldiers refuse to be drawn into a pointless battle. Whilst it would be reasonable to share this text with young students, it could be better used with middle and even upper primary students as they focus on the theme of conflict, war and intimidation by those who wield power. Alongside the Davide Cali and Serge Bloch title, The Enemy, this title would engage children in any unit involving bullying and human rights.
Jo Schenkel, Pilgrim School, SA
The illustrations attracted me. The story stayed with me. Grumpy Little King is just over 500 words in length, but it abounds in pictures that say thousands more. The little king of the story is a grumpy man who desires fame and power, and his short, dumpy stature, beady eyes, crossed arms and squiggly frown complete the vivid picture. This is a short story with a strong message about war politics and the futility of war – two kings attempt to start a war with the aim of furthering their own power and riches. They convince others to fight for them and pretend that the war has a higher cause. But when their subjects realise what’s going on and try to make the kings fight, it’s clear they don’t believe in war at all, contrary to the glib speeches given.
While the book is clearly drawn with younger children in mind, it’s a message for both older children and the young and can be used in schools to both entertain but impress upon children the hopelessness and undesirableness of war, despite the ‘glamour’ often associated with it. I particularly found the illustrations charming – they are line drawings with simple uses of colour. The bright red of the king makes him stand out and accentuates the heated ‘grumpiness’ of his character; the opposing colours of the different armies in blue and khaki tones made them both less vibrant but still easily identifiable opposite sides. I loved the caricature of the kings, with the long lanky king and the squat grumpy king, a simple visual opposite – yet both in the same shoes at the end! A really rich, funny and thoughtful book for younger readers
Rebecca Fung, NSW
Grumpy Little King is a clever picture book that explores the notion of why nations go to war and the self absorbed illogical decisions that are made by those in power that have devastating consequences for ordinary people whose lives are not valued. It would provide excellent discussion in any classroom. The adjective ‘little’ used in the title is apt, reinforcing the negative image of the king and other rulers in power who mindlessly send people to war without regard for human life. The cover illustration shows a king in the pose of a spoilt child unsatisfied with all he has. Throughout the picture book the text shows the absurdity of war and the effect it has on the whole population “The men used to be bakers and teachers… But everyone was a soldier now.”
The simplistic illustrations reinforce the message of the book. When the King decides to go to war he is towered over by his advisors, who are drawn without eyes reinforcing their mindless following of the king’s wishes and their inability to see what their desire for conflict causes. When the king is delivering a speech to rouse the population, the image is reminiscent of famous leaders of the past speaking to their populace in times of war.
The conclusion of the text is delightful with the armies rebelling against their cowardly rulers. It is an idealic ending, one that we wish people all over the world and through time would have done. It is ironic because we know that this is a fantasy ending and the cruel reality is that many lives are senselessly lost in war. This text would be useful in the classroom in many ways. It can be studied in a picture book unit, it would be an interesting book to read before studying war, especially WWI and looking at the ludicrous decisions made by leaders and how the soldiers stopped on the first Christmas and it can be utilised in showing a different way a composer convinces their audience of a viewpoint.
Peter Bond, NSW
The story is about a king who seems to have everything. We see from his illustrations that he wants not for food or shelter but he still isn’t happy. At this point we see the essence of the story where the king’s need for feeling better about himself leads him to engage in war. After everything is ready for the war the soldiers ask where is the king. The soldiers aren’t happy about risking their lives without their king to lead them into battle. A common attitude about the king by both groups of soldiers leading the fight unites them. They put their kings together and ask them to fight. When the soldiers see that the kings won’t fight they go home. The king is not happy because he still feels small. But the people don’t care and have a great time.
The cover page immediately grabs the reader’s attention with a white background and coloured illustrations. The pencil illustrations are simple but provide a lot of detail and give the reader many more clues about the story. The colours used in the illustrations have been carefully chosen to enhance the setting and reinforce images of war. The text is not dense. It is written in simple sentence which makes it accessible to many students. With the text and illustrations working together the meaning becomes clear. A discussion on the futility of war and of men on the ground making the sacrifice and not the leaders who started the war would be a key part of the book. Even more important for younger children would be using the characters as symbols for bullying that can take place in classrooms. A simple book in text and illustration which would lead to detailed discussions on war and bullying.
Roxanne Steenbergen, Windermere Primary School, TAS
When I first read this book I was a little disappointed. Even though it has great illustrations I didn’t really enjoy the story as I read it to my grandson. I think he is a little too young for it. On a second read through I changed my mind as I could see the possibilities for discussions that this book presents.
The story is about a king who is small and has a small kingdom to match. He is unhappy with his lot in life and asks his advisors for suggestions as to how he can rectify the problem. They suggest war.
He goes about the process of gathering an army together and chooses an enemy, The Lanky King, to fight with. After forcing all men from the kingdom into his army he promises them a medal for their troubles. The Grumpy King tells all his army about his enemy. But when the army got to the point of war and wanted to follow their leader into battle, he was nowhere to be seen. They finally found him at home drinking tea. Soon it was discovered that both the kings were too afraid to fight because they might get hurt. After being dragged to the battle field by their soldiers and discovering their fear, the war was ended before it began.
Discussion points for this book could be as simple as why was the king so grumpy to the futility of fighting a battle that has no reason to begin. It also was being played out by participants who really had no reason to be involved. An easy to read book that deserves a second glance.
Kathy Hotz, Hercules Road State School, QLD
Well-known illustrator Michel Streich has just published his first children’s book. Grumpy Little King is the story of a height-challenged monarch who decides the only way to raise his stature is by waging war on a neighbouring kingdom. He uses familiar tactics to win over his subjects such as propaganda, an arms race and parades of military force. Finally, he gives the order to attack. Though trained to obey, the soldiers soon notice that the kings from both sides of the battle are missing from the front line. The soldiers refuse to fight, leaving the cowardly kings to face each other. Of course, this brings the war to a speedy end.
Streich’s simple cartoons convey much about the complexities of war. I found the characters’ facial expressions particularly effective: the nose-in-the-air superiority of lanky king; the careful vacancy of the advisors; the stoicism of the soldiers; the hidden motives of the generals whose Nazi-style peak hats cover their eyes. A selective colour palate heightens the drama. The author’s message comes across loud and clear. Violence solves nothing. The Grumpy King will always be little. People power can overcome tyranny.
In the classroom or at home, this book not only introduces children to ideas about war but could also be used as a parable of small-scale oppression such as bullying. It may help younger readers to interpret current world events, especially in the light of recent popular movements. Stories that champion courage in the face of aggression have the potential to shape the attitudes of future generations. Grumpy Little King is one such book.
Sharon Hammad, Winmalee, NSW
This is a story about a little king with a very big ego. He was bored, greedy and discontented with what he had, so he took the counsel of his advisers and invented a war with a neighbouring king who happened to be his tall cousin. The general, of course, was only too happy to oblige, as generals love war. All the men who used to be bakers and teachers were forced to become soldiers. However when the two armies faced off against each other yelling “For our king” they realised that both kings were nowhere to be seen. The soldiers, after a great search, dragged each king to the battlefield to fight their own battles. Needless to say the war was never fought.
In a very simple way this book highlights the futility of war and the role leaders can play in putting their own people’s lives at risk for pointless and inane reasons just to fulfil their own covetous desires. Older students could research dictators and warlords throughout history who have started wars with other countries to find out the reasons for the wars and compare them to the “Grumpy Little King”. I think it would be surprising how many wars were started for the very reasons identified in this book. This could also be used to investigate the reasons behind playground battles which could lead onto a discussion about bullying and conflict management.
The simple line illustrations together with the limited, muted colour palette were used very effectively to call attention to the two opposing armies. In particular I liked how the two colours were mixed together in the celebration on the second last page to indicate unity as opposed to the separation of colour as the armies faced off against each other.
Margy Heuschele, Concordia Lutheran College, QLD
Well – the title character of this book certainly lives up to his name. This is a tale of dissatisfaction and discontent. A small king with a small kingdom. Not happy with what he has, he decides to invade a neighbouring kingdom belonging to his cousin. Plans are made and good honest, hard-working men are drafted in to fight. The armies assemble and prepare for battle but their kings are nowhere to be seen. This enrages the men and they fetch their kings to lead the fight, but the kings are cowardly and don’t want to fight for themselves. Disenchanted, the soldiers lay down their weapons and go home, leaving a grumpy little king to be grumpy by himself.
This book is cleverly illustrated, in a ‘scratchy’ style which perfectly complements the story tone of the book. Although the book is presented in Picture Book format it is not a title I would feel comfortable putting on our lower primary shelves. The themes of the book lend themselves more readily to discussion with older students, about the futility of and motives for war. It is an admirable attempt to dissect and simplify a difficult issue, in a similar manner to The Rabbits by John Marsden. We’re still considering how to catalogue this book.
Debbie Williams, Mountain District Christian School, VIC
The grumpy little king was always grumpy — he wanted to be a big king, important and powerful, ruling over a larger country. He decided to start a war against his cousin the lanky king and gain more land.
He equipped his workers and both sides lined up on the battlefield ready to fight. The little king and the lanky king didn’t show up to lead the soldiers. The soldiers were angry so they went off to fetch them. They were each given a rifle and told to fight, just like everyone else. But the kings were scared and refused to fight. When the soldiers saw this, they packed up and went home. The war was over. The king was still little and still grumpy.
A delicious picture book in format and illustrations. It sends a very strong message that war does not solve anything, is totally futile and that the workers expect their leaders to show leadership and work together as a team. Grumpy Little King fits in very well as a resource for many topics within a classroom setting – bullying, family, local community and government relationships, communication. Younger students could look at working together on a writing activity and extend the picture book or re-write a different conclusion. Older students could use it alongside a study of war and the consequences of war and impact upon a country. It seems a very simple read but has so much to offer a classroom across all levels.
Kimberley Atkinson, Robertson Road School, New Zealand
Michael Streich’s book, Grumpy Little King, is far from just a picture book! The simple drawing on the front cover engages a viewer. The story is quite short and to the point. It is up to the reader to enhance it with his/her own point of view. The pictures are simple, yet very effective, line drawings, caricatures almost, using a very limited colour palette that makes the message stand out clearly. The message about the ridiculous reasons for a war is evocative and eminently readable. It is both thought provoking and funny. One read is not enough.
My upper primary students laughed at first look and then proceeded to discuss why he was grumpy. It was only afterwards that I read the blurb to them and another discussion developed. I already had a lesson developing, led by the students, with very little input from me. Predictions were rife about how his plan turned out. I introduced this text in the introduction to a unit of work and it was a springboard to some animated discussions about both the causes and the effects of war.
I would recommend this book to anyone. It can be read to young children, read with older children and read by anyone who enjoys a good read accompanied by delightful illustrations that capture the mood and essence of the storyline. Everyone will take something different from it. Whether the story is accepted literally or the reader thinks more deeply about the message, Michael Streich has crafted a book that is both memorable and provocative.
Colleen Thistleton, ACT