John Manders and Wendy Slotboom’s ‘King Snake’ rules

It’s not  often that Comics on the Brain gets to review a children’s book that actually has a permanent place in the CotB library. Sure, we could buy all those kiddie books that we love, but that would be very expensive.

On the other hand, ‘King Snake,’ written by Wendy Slotboom and illustrated by John Manders, has its own special place on the shelf. It stays with us day and night because its so darn fun to read. And not just read quietly to ourselves, but aloud and summoning our greatest impression of Dr. Smith from “Lost in Space,” because that’s who we imagine would be best to perform the role of King Snake.

The book stars two mice, Henry and Tinkerton, who are suddenly cornered by very talkative garter snake. He calls himself King Snake, even if he’s not a king snake. In fact, he’s got a story about that, and a story or opinion about practically everything.

The mice are in a tough spot — it seems like they’re on the dinner plate for King Snake — and they have to figure out how to extricate themselves from this very delicate situation. That’s when they discover King Snake has a weakness, and they just have to figure out how to exploit it.

You see, King Snake is a talker. The kind of talker who just resorts to babbling when there’s nothing left to say. He’s the kind of person to make sure there’s not a moment of silence around him. Even more, it’s his penchant for verbosity that makes you, the reader, come alive too — as long as you read “King Snake” aloud.

You can’t just blah-blah-blah read it either. You’re pretty much forced to take on King Snake’s prissy, self-absorbed attitude as you go along with his love for language. He just talks and talks and talks, and if he’s not talking about himself, then he’s probably “bored, bored, BORED!”

And don’t think for a second that John Manders’ illustrations aren’t up to par to the fun of the dialogue. Thanks to Manders, you can see from King Snake’s grin just how self-satisfied he is. You can tell how sure of himself he is. That’s how Manders’ watercolor and colored-pencil art works — when something new pops up, you can see how excited King Snake is about it.

The mix of great dialogue and on-the-spot illustration is what earned “King Snake” a royal spot on our bookshelf — and maybe you should snag one for yourself too.


PUBLISHER: Houghton Mifflin Co

YEAR: 1997

AUTHOR: Wendy Slotboom


ARTIST: John Manders

TOUGHEST WORDS: Whispering, sidewinding, disappointed


COMIC BOOK-NESS: Not very comic-booky, but a few tweaks here and there could do it

WOULD IT BE A GOOD MOVIE? Too short for a movie, but it would make an entertaining series of cartoon featurettes.

THEMES: Snakes, mice, sewing, talking

WEBSITE: John Manders


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