Review Blog

Oct 02 2014

The last king of Angkor Wat by Graeme Base

cover image

Viking/Penguin, 2014. ISBN 9780670077151.
Amongst the ruins of Angkor Wat, the 'City of Temples' built hundreds of years ago by the Khmer people in the north of what is now Cambodia, Tiger, Gibbon, Water Buffalo and Gecko look at the ancient stone carvings and muse on what it would like to have been a king.
Tiger believes he would have been a fine king because he is strong but Gibbon declares he would have been better because he would have ruled with compassion and kindness. Water Buffalo says he would have never given up, no matter what, while tiny Gecko proclaims he would have been a fearless warrior. And so an argument about who would have made the best king ensues. Their talk is interrupted by Elephant. 'It takes many qualities to be a good king', he says. 'Strength, compassion, resilience and courage.' He then challenges them to find out if they are worthy by going to the temple at the top of the hill. And so begins a race during which each creature encounters Snake and other obstacles, dealing with them accordingly, not realising what their decisions and actions are saying about them as potential rulers. When they reach the temple at the top of the hill Elephant is waiting, but rather than giving the title to the victor, he forces them to examine their journey and learn from it. Who will be crowned king? Will any of them make the grade?
Set against a backdrop of opulent, evocative scenes detailed in the way that we associate with Graeme Base's illustrations, this is a tale with a message about humility that would be a perfect adjunct to a values-based program. Often, Base embeds either a textual or visual puzzle into his books but this time, the puzzle is in the meaning of the words. But even with the story told and retold and understood, the young reader will be drawn again and again to the elaborate, exquisite illustrations searching for the riches within, perhaps discovering the butterfly who also makes the journey or the author's signature. Such is Base's reputation, his fans have learned to look for more than meets the eye.
Another magnificent masterpiece.
Barbara Braxton

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