Go froggy with ‘William the Curious’

I like knights.

It’s just one the things in the world that I find interesting. Really interesting, and for the life of me I can’t figure out why knights aren’t more popular.
Why don’t we have more TV shows, movies, novels, video games and websites dedicated to knights? Not guys with swords casting spells, but regular knights. Why aren’t little boys and girls dressing up as knights on Halloween? Why don’t adults with way too much time on their hands and way  too much money in their pockets learning knightly skills and buying suits of armor?

Knights are pretty darn amazing, after all: They use swords and axes. They carry shields. They wear cool helmets and shiny armor. They have the world’s best animal companion in their trusty steed. They have an honor system that tells them to defend the weak and honor their masters. They are not thinkers, they are doers. They are persons of action — swift and deadly action.

And somehow, the world isn’t obsessed with them.

Well, most of the world isn’t obsessed with them

There is one place — the world of children’s literature. Browse any children’s bookshelf and its hard not to stumble upon a book about knights, swords and princesses.

In fact, there’s actually a glut of knightly virtue espoused on the picture-book crowd. Because of all that glut, it’s hard to rise above the mediocrity and be different. It’s hard to offer something new.

However, that is exactly what “William the Curious: Knight of the Water Lilies” by Charles Santore does.

The story of William is unlike most other knights. Instead of the story of a boy who works hard to be knighted and dashes off to defend his king, William starts out as a lowly moat frog — and he remains that through the story. No magical kisses change him into a fairy tale superhero.

Instead, he is a brave frog with a dream. A dream to become a knight, and when he does he doesn’t rush off to battle. He turns on his queen and tells her what she’s doing wrong. Just like a knight is supposed to do, he defends the weak.

In fact, the story isn’t so much about knightly virtues as you’d think. Instead, Santore uses the book to offer another message. He knows that every young reader knows what a knight is and what a knight is supposed to do, and allows the story to develop beyond a Wikipedia entry on what it takes to be a knight. He lets a real conflict arise. One that’s about the hard choice of taking your superior to task.

Along with the expertly crafted story, Santore shows us what life is like in the moat and the castle it surrounds. He builds a colorful photo-realistic world with just a touch of whimsy. Showing his story-telling smarts, Santore also presents the story the right way by showing us what it’s like to be so low that you’re under the underdog.

It’s the attention to story — one that combines humility and grace — that makes “William the Curious” a hop, skip and jump above all the other books about knights you’ll find on the shelves. It’s best you send yourself on a quest to dig it up.

ISBN: 0-67-88742-3 /0-679-98742-8

PUBLISHER: Random House

YEAR: 1997

AUTHOR: Charles Santore

ARTIST:Charles Santore

TOUGHEST WORDS: Ridiculous, potatoes, conversations, drawbridge

DENSITY OF TEXT: Text blocks

COMIC BOOK-NESS: Not at all, but it’s an adventure story

WOULD IT BE A GOOD MOVIE? Yes, you can see how this could be expanded upon and its themes explored a little more thoroughly in a 90-minute feature.

THEMES: Duty, honor, respect, environment, litter

WEBSITE: Charles Santore on Wikipedia


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