________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 2 . . . . September 12, 2008

cover The King Has Goat Ears.

Katarina Jovanovic. Illustrated by Philippe Béha.
Vancouver, BC: Tradewind Books, 2008.
32 pp., hardcover, $16.95.
ISBN 978-1-896580-22-7.

Subject Headings:
Secrecy-Juvenile fiction.
Self-acceptance-Juvenile fiction.

Preschool-grade 4 / Ages 3-9.

Review by Wayne Serebrin.

**** /4

Reviewed from f&g’s.


Igor was scared to share
with the people in the village
what he knew about the
king. He didn't want to tell
Miro either. But he couldn't
keep the secret about King
Boyan to himself.

So he went to a meadow, dug a deep hole in the ground and shouted down into it:

"The king has goat ears!"

Then he covered up the hole and went home.


internal art

Have you ever had a secret that you knew you shouldn't share, but the burden of keeping silent was so great you just had to let it out? This is the struggle that Igor, the young apprentice of Miro (the only barber left in the kingdom), experiences after he cuts King Boyan's hair, astutely responds to the king that his prominent, goat ears "look just fine," and, with these assuring words, wins his freedom as the first barber not permanently confined to the palace after cutting the king's hair. Released back to his village, it is not Igor's intention to betray the king's secret to his subjects. And so, in a creative turn that draws upon an ancient Serbian folktale, author Katarina Jovanovic (who now resides in Vancouver but who worked for many years in children's programming for Serbian radio) relieves Igor of the burden of his secret by having him dig a hole in a meadow, shout his secret into it, and cover up the hole again.

      Unbeknownst to Igor, it is magic that releases the king's buried secret. From the hole in the field into which Igor has shouted his secret grow long reeds that shepherds grazing their flocks turn into reed flutes. But these are no ordinary flutes! They are strange flutes that sing: "The king has goat ears! The king has goat ears!" Surely this can't be good for Igor.

      Having secured the reclusive king's confidence, Igor returns to the palace whenever the king needs a haircut. As he cuts the king's hair, he entertains the curious king with stories about life in his kingdom. The king, growing increasingly comfortable with his appearance, decides to act on Igor's suggestion that he attend the upcoming May Fair. A young boy in the crowd has purchased one of the strange, singing flutes and, just as the king's carriage drives by him on the fairgrounds, the flute begins to sing: "The king has goat ears!" "The king has goat ears!" Will the king's guards capture the boy? What will happen to Igor?

      Readers will have to read the story themselves to find out (although, they can take comfort in knowing that The King Has Goat Ears stays true to the folktale genre). The king undergoes a transformation and comes to appreciate a universal truth — we need to like ourselves just as we are.

      At a time when Canadian society and schools are becoming vastly more diverse, this retelling of a Serbian folktale weaves another cultural thread into the rich fabric of Canadian children's literature. The story's message of self-acceptance will contribute to family and classroom dialogue about caring about our own uniqueness as a first step to appreciating and valuing the plurality around us.

      While this is Katarina Jovanovic's first book for children, the liveliness, humour, and detail of her writing — "Miro turned as white as shaving cream and fainted dead away" — reveal her varied experiences as a writer, teacher, journalist and award-winning poet.

      The story is also told in an imaginative, active and dramatic way through the illustrations created by Moroccan-born and long-time Montreal resident Philipe Béha. A portrait of the unhappy looking king with his goat ears hidden from view opens the story, and the story closes with a portrait of the smiling king with his ears fully exposed. There is so much movement in the illustrations that, as a reader, I felt as if I were watching a stage play being performed in front of my eyes. The use of mixed media and side-views of characters are signature marks of Béha's numerous and award-winning children's books. I laughed out loud at the collage image of Igor's coiffure and the many collage eyes "glued to the page" where the king's ears are first revealed to his subjects at the May Fair. Children will delight in following the parrot that joins in the action from one illustration to the next.

      This is an ageless folktale that will joyfully engage today's young readers while offering a worthy but not heavy-handed moral.

Highly Recommended.

Wayne Serebrin is a professor of Language and Literacy and Early Years Education in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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