Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Fourth King by Ted Sieger

We have celebrated Christmas in our school library by announcing a book of Christmas every day for the last twelve days - The Twelve Books of Christmas.

One book I sent out to a lucky class was The Fourth King.  Our narrator is the Fourth King himself who has been watching the stars for "the sign that would herald the birth of the King of Kings."  Finally one night King Mazzel (the Fourth King) sees this star so he grabs two special presents - the royal star map and the royal star crystal - and he rushes off to catch up with the other three kings - Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar.

Just as he is getting close a huge storm rages across the desert and Mazzel and his faithful camel Chamberlin are blinded by the sand.  As the winds die down they hear the cries of a young girl.  Our intrepid heroes rush back into the storm to rescue her.  "We headed back into the storm, and there, in its heart, we found a little nomad girl - sand-stung and frightened,. her name blown away by the wind."  They find her family and set off again only to discover they have missed the Three Kings by minutes.

This next part of their journey sees them meeting up with a merchant caravan - hundreds of camels travelling through the desert, lost and with no map.  Naturally Mazzel stops to help "it was quite a detour to their hometown,.  In slow procession, we led the caravan safely out of the desert.  My heart soared: I could still see the star; perhaps we would meet up with the Three Kings after all."

On the third part of the trip as they are resting for the night they hear a sound of tinkling.  It is coming from a small thirsty plant.  Mazzel gives the plant the last of his water. "To our amazement, the plant began to flower, then dropped into my palm a little round fruit that sounded like a bell."

The next obstacle is a huge wall which is being built by child slaves.  Mazzel offers his gift that was intended for the newborn king in exchange for the children's freedom but the rich man takes the star crystal and he will not free the children.  So Mazzel and Chamberlin stay on and help the children with the building.  As a way of saying thank you a  little girl gives them a wooden toy lamb. "It made me smile.  I hid the lamb in my tunic and promised her, that somehow, we would all be free."

This is a religious Christmas story but surely Christmas is a religious time.  The ending will make you smile along with the time you share exploring the joyous and detailed illustration.

Here is a web site about the author with some funny comments about camels.  Here is a detailed review. An animated film was made of this book but it seems to be unavailable.