Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Review - Humpty Dumpty Lived Near a Wall

Humpty Dumpty Lived Near a Wall
by Derek Hughes
illustrated by Nathan Christopher
Date: 2020
Publisher: Penguin Workshop
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 48
Format: e-book
Source: library

Looks like the wall has finally met its match. This classic tale gets a modern twist with a Humpty Dumpty for a new generation.

"Humpty Dumpty lived near a wall..." begins this well-known fable. But this time Humpty is ready for battle, with a secret mission and a touch of mischief. Can all the King's horses and all the King's men help put Humpty together again? Or maybe the mission, no matter how small, is simply to question the point of a wall.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

WARNING: Major Spoilers! To read this review with the spoilers hidden, check it out on Goodreads.

It's fascinating what some people think is suitable for children.

This is a super dark rendition of the Humpty Dumpty rhyme. Humpty and his fellow citizens toil in a bland, colourless existence (literally; the pictures are all black and white) as capitalism has run amok. Everyone's under the control of the king, who has built a wall around his domain. Nobody knows what's on the other side. All they know is the wall and the shadow it casts. Then, one day, Humpty decides to build a ladder so he can get to the top and see what's on the other side. He succeeds... but in a very dark way that could be interpreted in a few ways, some of them pretty unsavoury (and completely inappropriate for a children's book).

Yes, Humpty dies. He makes it to the top of the ladder, and the last we see of him--intact, at least--is as an egg staring off over the wall. The next day, a broken egg is found at the bottom of the wall. One piece has a smile on its face. Is the wall a metaphor for the veil between life and death? Did Humpty kill himself to escape oppression? Is that why he died with a smile on his face? What does the king represent? Authoritarian power that can only be escaped by death? There's a cheery thought. (He actually sends photos of Humpty's corpse throughout the kingdom to keep the rest of his subjects in line through fear. Sick freak.)

I can't see that children are going to get much out of this (except maybe trauma). The illustrations, while incredibly detailed and skillful, are monochromatic and extremely creepy in places. Adults will appreciate them. Three-year-olds probably won't.

There needs to be a new category for picture books for adults. As it is now, they're usually published by children's publishers. That's only going to lead to confusion and upset when kids gets their hands on stories like these. "Adult Picture Book" needs to be a category of its own. Then little kids won't accidentally be read clearly adult titles like The Beach at Night or Go the F**k to Sleep. You wouldn't let your preschooler watch Game of Thrones (hopefully), so why would you read them picture books with violence, sexual content, and swearing?

I don't even know how to rate this. On the one hand, it completely misses the mark for its supposed audience. On the other, it's skillfully done. Check it out ahead of time if you're thinking of giving it to your kids. That's about all I can really advise.

Premise: 3/5
Meter: 3/5
Writing: 3/5
Illustrations: 3/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 2.57 out of 5

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