Chris Van Dusen's King Hugo's Huge Ego
Book review by Sherri Trudgian
Pride goes before a fall but love conquers all!
This is my second review of a Chris Van Dusen book and I am impressed with his consistency. (Webmaster's note: Here's Sherri's review of The Circus Ship.) It takes not only talent but a special giftedness to create a new classic children’s book. I think my future great-grandchildren will enjoy reading King Hugo’s Huge Ego.
The front cover first captured my attention, enticing me into the story. The title is typeset in gigantic silver letters reflecting the king’s enormous self-image. The clever rhyme of Hugo with Ego coupled with the alliteration of Hugo and Huge more than doubles the emphasis.
Who can resist the sight of a tiny king preening in front of a gilded mirror? From the top of his golden crown, over his ermine trimmed robe, down to the tip of his shiny buckled shoe, Van Dusen has created a king who is more than pleased with himself.
Not unlike a mythical god, King Hugo demands worship. When he deigns to walk among the peasantry, he does so with much pomp and circumstance. His lowly subjects are required to prostrate themselves as he passes. Even the sheep in the meadow bow as Hugo’s coach rumbles down the lane.
At precisely ten thirty every Friday morning, all inhabitants are required to assemble at the base of the tower for his “Speech of Adoration”. Hugo is the epitome of absurdity. Not only is the speech boring but the tiny king seems unaware of the yawns, snickers and grimaces of his ‘not so adoring’ subjects.
The size of this mini king’s ego however, proves to be no match for the ingenuity of a young sorceress. When ordered by the king’s heralds to step aside and allow the king to pass,
The girl (whose name was Tessa)
said bluntly, "Go around."
She didn’t want to drop her load
and bow down on the ground.
Hugo orders his coach to continue on, knocking poor Tessa into the ditch. Covered in mud and majorly ticked, Tessa casts a spell on the unsuspecting king. In future, Hugo’s head will increase in size with every boastful phrase he utters.
"A pox on you, O cocky king
in robes of royal red.
Let’s see if all your arrogance
can fit inside your head."
What lies down the road for these two???
Soaked and covered in mud, Tessa has lost her shoe. Is there a Cinderella connection here? A frog sits atop her head. Is there a prince in her future?
The answer is YES! After all this is a fairytale.
The curse starts to work immediately. Although his body tingles and twinges, Hugo seems oblivious to the fact that his head is swelling. To hold his shrinking crown in place, he simply ties it on with a string. In one humorous illustration Hugo becomes stuck in the castle window, the unfortunate prisoner of his own triple chin.
"I know not how this happened
but now there’s even more
of your absolutely fabulous
King Hugo to adore."
Hugo’s head continues to bulge and bloat with each bragging phrase he speaks. It completely overpowers his tiny body. Unable to fit through the tower door on Friday morning, Hugo is forced to climb the outside staircase to give his ‘Speech of Adoration’.
The more he talked, the more he grew,
till suddenly a squall
hit the king’s gigantic head
and pitched him off the wall!
Hugo floats like a balloon through the air. He bounces along the lane and, ironically covered in mud, lands at Tessa’s feet. Weighed down by his gigantic head, Hugo’s little legs flail in the air. With eyes bulging angrily, he demands that Tessa pull him to his feet.
Tessa is annoyed by Hugo’s ego. She explains that her spell coupled with his pomposity has caused his royal head to swell. Blinded by his hubris Hugo is still not convinced that he is the cause of the problem. Totally frustrated, Tessa twists his ear, releasing all the haughty air that has built up in his head. It proves to be very therapeutic!
King Hugo realizes he has been a buffoon and apologizes. Tessa’s heart melts at the sight of his sad puppy eyes and decides that deep down inside she really likes this tiny king.
On bended knee, both humbled and repentant, Hugo asks Tessa to marry him. Hugo becomes a better man and Tessa becomes a queen. The kingdom is delighted. Like all good fairy tales everyone lives happily ever after.
I appreciate Chris Van Dusen’s ability to incorporate word meanings into his verse for young readers. He masterfully employs rhyme to explain words such as ‘ego’ …
And though this mini monarch
stood no higher than an elf,
his ego was enormous –
he thought highly of himself.
the kind with special powers
like a wizard or a witch.
So she cast a spell upon the king
While mired in the ditch.
Chris Van Dusen’s illustrations for the most part have been drawn from the perspective of the peasants. The reader (along with the serfs and animals) is forced to continually look up to the king. The castle sits high on a hill overlooking the rural countryside for defense purposes, but it allows Hugo to gaze down upon his lowly subjects.
In order to maintain his sense of superiority, the three foot three inch king has to climb both a set of stairs and a ladder to reach his throne. Although perched upon a pillow, Hugo still fails to reach the height of his two bodyguards.
Hugo is so enamored with himself that he carries a hand mirror on his person. His picture is plastered everywhere. Portraits not only adorn the walls but his image can be seen in the shrubbery and tops the water fountain.
Van Dusen continues to mock King Hugo’s huge ego by adding a peacock to several of his illustrations. Instead of proudly displaying his beautiful feathers, the once majestic peacock meekly trails behind the king, head bowed, shoulders slouched, tail dragging.
Van Dusen employs contrast in his artistry to emphasize the kingdom’s class structure. Hugo lives a life of leisure. Tessa labors with her hands. Hugo’s pet pug sports a matching ermine robe and crown while Tessa’s cat is simply black (appropriate for a sorceress). Hugo swiftly travels the country lanes in the comfort of his carriage. Tessa walks slowly, back bent from her sheaf of grain. Hugo sits pristine in his carriage while Tessa lies in the ditch. Hugo insists his driver ignore Tessa by pointing his finger straight ahead. Covered in mud Tessa points her finger at Hugo casting her spell. In the final illustration Hugo’s personality has been transformed from an egotistical maniac to that of a true companion. Hand in hand with Tessa by his side, Hugo is seen walking among his people.
Tessa is our heroine. She is both loveable and blunt. We cheer her ability to deflate Hugo’s balloon, proving that “Pride does go before a fall.” Ironically. the humbled Hugo breaks her independent spirit, melts her heart and causes her to fall in love.
King Hugo's Huge Ego is well worth the investment of your time. It is beautifully written, the illustrations are priceless. It is just fun! By the way, who is that man in the yellow hat and glasses? Un mystère n’est-il pas?
Read more of Sherri's reviews.
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