Endorsed by Amnesty International, King of the Sky is a deeply moving picture book that explores themes and emotions of belonging, place and home. This is a book for anyone who has ever found themselves in strange, unfamiliar surroundings or experienced the loneliness and confusion of not ‘fitting in’ or feeling at home.
King of the Sky is the tale of a young boy who has moved from Italy to an unknown (but possibly Welsh) rural, once industrial mining town. He immediately misses the “sunlight, fountains and vanilla smell of ice cream” he knew back in Rome and instead can see only rain, chimney smoke and “streets that smell of mutton soup.”
That is until he meets Mr Evans; an elderly man with a crumpled face that keeps racing pigeons in a loft behind the boy’s house. Mr Evans lets the boy help him train the pigeons and even name one of them. The boy chooses ‘King of the Sky’. The old man is convinced this pigeon is a winner, despite him never having won any awards unlike all the others. So the pair take the birds by train further and further each day so they can practice flying home in time for an upcoming European race. But King of the Sky is always last and the boy isn’t sure how he will ever win the race.
The capitalised words, which appear almost as if they have been hand-painted, are accompanied by breath-taking drawings by award-winning illustrator Laura Carlin. Soft and smudgy in beautiful muted colours, the pictures give a childlike quality to the landscapes of Rome and the little mining town but also a sense of warmth, comfort and nostalgia. Cosy countryside views, horses and carts and old steam trains evoke a time past, while the pigeons are each one individual and uniquely coloured. Somehow even the bleakly portrayed charcoal tones of the mining town induce both melancholy and longing.
The King of the Sky is narrated by the young boy, helping it resonate with young readers so they can make sense of some of the issues around migration that our so visible in the world today, and the issues in their own worlds that can enable empathy with the child in their class who perhaps ‘doesn’t speak the same language’ as them.
This touching book makes a valuable contribution in that sense, but it is also a magical read with a happy ending. Pigeons don’t need a compass to find their way home and perhaps none of us do either. King of the Sky makes us believe that all we need is to find just that one special thing to connect us to our ‘place’, to make it feel like home.
All images courtesy of Walker Books, who have published King of the Sky by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin.
King of the Sky, published by Walker Books, is out now.