________________ CM . . . . Volume VIII Number 9 . . . . January 4, 2002

cover King of the Castle.

Kathy Stinson. Illustrated by Kasia Charko.
Toronto, ON: Second Story Press, 2000.
61 pp., pbk., $7.95.
ISBN 1-896764-35-5.

Subject Headings:
Literacy-Juvenile fiction.
Janitors-Juvenile fiction.
Grandparent and child-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 2-4 / Ages 7-9.

Review by Carole Marion.

*** /4


"Ever since Jemma was a baby, Mr. Elliot player his music and sang to her at bedtime.

"Hush, little baby, don't say a word ..." Jemma loved this song even though she wasn't a baby anymore, but one night when her grandfather was singing it to her, she slipped off her bed and brought him a book.

"Read to me, Grandpa," she said. Mr. Elliot kept on singing, "Mama's going
to buy you ..."

"Stop singing," Jemma insisted. "Read."

"I'll have to let your mother read you your book," Mr. Elliot said, because I don't have my glasses." He turned away from Jemma's big brown eyes, ashamed of telling her a lie. Oh, why did Jemma have to bother him with her book anyway? Jason had never asked him to read. Neither had his own daughter when she was little.

Graham Elliot is a well-loved caretaker in an elementary school. He is surrounded by learning, yet he is unable to read. For years he has compensated for his illiteracy, creating a cocoon of lies and evasive strategies to protect himself. But the cocoon is about to burst.


     Mr. Elliot's inability to read signs and labels is setting a poor example for the students at Jessie Lucas Public School who are clashing with the neighbourhood tenants. His co-workers cannot
understand why he does not apply for the head caretaker position when Mr. Caracas retires, a job that requires occasional paperwork and a written application. His grandchildren start questioning why he never wants to share picture books with them. For how long can he deter them with excuses of misplaced eyeglasses?

     This brief, concisely written and touching novel, crafted by award-winner Kathy Stinson, explores the difficulties of being an illiterate adult in a literate environment. The frustrations experienced by Mr. Elliot are very real, as is the hypocrisy that surrounds his everyday experiences. Years of excuses, to himself and to others, have weighed heavily on his shoulders. Not until he hears the taunts levied at a student and recognizes the trap that young Derek might so easily fall into does he have the courage to change what has developed into a handicap. The handicap has become oppressive; he yearns to be free of it, to be to be the king of his castle, to take control of his life.

     The frequent black and white illustrations by Kasia Charko perfectly mesh with the text and help the words come alive. The gentle man portrayed in the pen and ink sketches complement the words and depict a man who cares about his young charges, one whose physical appearance suits his actions. His kind face fits the man who rescues a stray ball from the school's roof, takes time to kick a soccer ball around with the students and plays harmonica for his grandchildren. The affection between the children and Mr. Elliot is evident, as is the closeness between the grandfather and his grandkids. This is a story of love, vulnerability and acceptance. It would make an enjoyable read-aloud story and provide a stepping board to class discussions about the importance of literacy in contemporary life. Although King of the Castle is longer in text than Jo Ellen Bogart's Jeremiah Learns to Read and Eve Bunting's The Wednesday Surprise, this trio would make an effective unit for a classroom or program setting.


Carole Marion is a Branch Librarian at Calgary Public Library's newest branch, Shawnessy Library. She has been working with youth and their caregivers for over sixteen years.


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

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364