King of the Sky by Nicola Davies (review)
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Reviewed by
Davies, Nicola King of the Sky; illus. by Laura Carlin. Candlewick, 2017 48p ISBN 978-0-7636-9568-2 $17.99 R 6-9 yrs

Our young narrator is homesick, having moved to Britain from Rome and finding everything around him saying, “This is not where you belong.” He does like the pigeons in the loft near his house, who belong to former miner Mr. Evans, and as the boy learns about racing the birds he and the old man bond. The boy is particularly attached to a bird he names Re del Cielo (King of the Sky), and when Mr. Evans is too ill to prepare the pigeons for racing, it’s up to the boy to send Re del Cielo to Rome via train to see if he can race back over 1000 miles. Though there’s no note, this story seems to be inspired by the early twentieth-century racing pigeon the King of Rome, who found his way from Rome back to Britain in a storm like the one Re del Cielo negotiates; Davies makes the tale into something her own, though, with the narrator’s loneliness palpable, his interest in the pigeons absorbing, and his quiet friendship with the increasingly infirm Mr. Evans poignant yet wisely underplayed. The mixed-media art is soft and smoky and impressionistic, with watercolor blurs evoking pigeons in flight and grainy pencil sometimes adding texture and sometimes outlining figures; they silently expand on the narrator’s account, allowing for views into his family and the bustling life of his terraced row of houses. This is likely to be as much of a different world for viewers as it is for our protagonist, so they’ll appreciate the novice company and find this an unusual and compelling animal story, and they may enjoy an introduction via YouTube to the folk song about the King of Rome.

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