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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
The Kiss That Missed
The Kiss That Missed
by David Melling
Barron's Educational Series,(January 2007)
Once upon a Tuesday the King was in a hurry as usual. "Goodnight," he said and blew his son a Royal Kiss.
The young prince watched it rattle around the room, then bounce out of the window and into the night.
The prince told the Queen.
The Queen told the King, and the King had a quick word with his loyal Knight.
"Follow that Kiss!" he squawked.
--The Kiss That Missed, by David Melling, p. 1-5.
Melling (The Scallywags; The Ghost Library) has created a fun, heart-warming book about taking the time to say goodnight to the people you love, and being truly present with them. In the book, a busy king blows his son a kiss, but the kiss misses, flying out the window into the night. When his son complains, the king instructs his knight to get the kiss back. The knight follows the kiss where all sorts of wild creatures are waiting—and then the kiss says good-night to them all, and they all settle down to sleep. But the kiss doesn't stop there. The knight follows it to a hungry dragon. But before the dragon can do anything, the kiss settles down on the dragon's nose, transforming the dragon into a friendly, kissing creature. The knight takes the kiss back to the castle, where the king promises not to be in such a hurry, and he slowly reads everyone a bedtime story.
Melling's beautifully written text pulls readers quickly through the story. It uses strong, descriptive words ("the kiss rattles around the room, bounces out of the window"), sensory details ("it was dark, it was smelly"), and humor and surprise to make the story come alive and delight readers. (Surprise: "It was dark. It was smelly. It was . . ." (turn the page) "...snowing." and humor: "'Eek!' squeaked the Knight."). He also uses imagination, both in the story itself (the kiss flying out of the room under its own direction) and in his imaginative use of words (swoopy, dribbly).
It is clear that the king loves his son, but is too busy in the beginning to take the time to really be with him. All that changes when the kiss is returned, and a warm scene occurs where the king reads to everyone. The knight's adventures are fun to follow, the humor and delight increasing as the reader sees that what the text of the story says, at times, is dramatically different than what the illustrations tell us (We're told that the knight and his horse sit down on a tree trunk to rest—but the "trunk" is a dragon's finger.) The ending is uplifting, giving us a satisfied, happy feeling before the very last humorous page, where the king falls asleep before he finishes reading the entire story.
Melling's cartoon-like illustrations have a warm, good-feeling humor to them that makes the reader want to smile just looking at them. All the faces of the people look kind and caring, the wild creatures have a fun, cartoonish appeal, including the dragon. Care is taken to make sure the illustrations are not scary.
There is great humor in the illustrations—the knight mounting his horse backwards; the knight lying, bum facing us, legs up, off his horse who looks startled; the knight with a split in his pants, revealing polka-dotted underwear; the knight staring at the dragon's nostrils.... Yet the knight achieves his mission—bringing the kiss back to the prince.
The knight visually pops out of the illustrations, brighter in color than the other characters (until he arrives back at the castle with the kiss), drawing our attention to him and the forward movement of the story. The knight's horse is rarely mentioned in the text, yet he is a character alongside the knight, showing through his expressions when the knight has done something particularly silly, and eliciting a laugh from the reader.
The illustrations have great detail—the toys and books scattered around the prince's room; the details on the period clothing, even the scales on the dragon. The details add to the illustrations; they are never distracting. There is also a nice use of light, as it shines off the knight's armor and shield, casts shadows, and lightens or darkens characters or background.
There is a good use of space and time; there are several spreads where the image is divided into three or more time sequences, or we see the same characters move through different actions on the same page. The illustrations vary in size from spread to spread; some are medium-sized and enclosed within decorative borders; some appear small on the page with white space around them, and are joined by other small illustrations; others take up the entire page or spread.
The text and illustrations perfectly compliment each other. They are both imaginative, playful, and tender, use humor and fantasy, and they each add to the other, showing something that the other doesn't. This is a well-crafted story, the text and the illustrations both working double time.
This is a delightful, entertaining, and reassuring story—one you'll want to read many times. It reminds us all to spend time with the people we love, and not get too busy. Highly recommended.
-Added January 2007
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