King of the Sky ISBN: 9781406379198
Published by Walker Books, 2018
Beautifully drawn in soft pastel colours, this picture book is really for older children who have experienced or are experiencing a move to another country that doesn't feel like home. The boy (9 or 10 seemingly) has come to South Wales from his warm and colourful home in Italy, and he misses it dreadfully and feels he doesn't belong in a place where 'chimneys smoked...metal towers clanked (and) streets smelled of mutton soup and coal dust.' Furthermore, his English is poor. It is only when he meets Mr Evans next door who keeps pigeons that remind the boy of pigeons in St Peter's Square in Rome, that he begins to show an interest. Mr Evans is elderly and frail but friendly and shows the boy all about the pigeons, even presenting him with one. The boy names his bird with a 'head that was whiter than a splash of milk' and an 'eye that blazed fire' Re Del Cielo (King of the Sky), and the old man says that he will be a winner some day. The boy and Mr Evans begin to take the birds to the station to send them further and further afield in order to train them to come home again, and they always do. When Mr Evans becomes bedridden, it is up to the boy to do the work that sends the birds on their way and clock them home again, but it always seems to be the King who comes last. Mr Evans is not perturbed: 'He's got the wings for distance,' he says. At last it is time for the big race. The King will be sent to Rome and have to find his way back from there. The boy is sad when he sees his bird off; he wants to go with him, and is worried that the King will see all the glories of Rome and just stay there. But Mr Evans says that the sun and the fountains and beauty will only make the pigeon know this is not where he belongs. Then a storm blows up and there are even more worries, but Mr Evans is adamant that the pigeon will come through, even though it will take longer. And so he does; he finds his home, and our boy discovers he feels at home too. The similarities between both bird and boy's experiences are handled superbly in text and picture, and this is a special book in every way. It will repay many readings.