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Theodore Seuss Geisel, using his famous pen name of Dr. Seuss, wrote and illustrated his first children's book, "And to Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street," in 1937. Two years later he wrote "The King's Stilts." Even at this early point in his career Dr. Seuss was able to emphasize the idea that reading could be fun without have to be moralistic and that it was important that the illustrations actually had a close relationship with the text of the story. Geisel once declared: "I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it's a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life's realities." Certainly "The King's Stilts" evidences that point.

The story begins with the point that King Birtram on the Kingdom of Binn NEVER wore his stilts during business hours and that he worked very hard, continuing to sign important papers of state even while he was taking a bath. However, the king's most important job was caring for the mighty Dike Trees that protected the people of Binn from the sea. Their heavy, knotted roots held back the water. However, those roots were also very tasty to Nizzards, a kind of giant blackbird with a sharp and pointed beak. If the Nizzards were to eat the roots of the Dike Trees then the roots would soon give way, the sea would pour in, and every last soul in the Kingdom of Binn would drown. But King Birtram did not allow this to happen and by gathering together a thousand of the largest and smartest cats in the world to function as Patrol Cats (wearing badges that say "P.C."). These cats were so important that the Cat Kitchen was bigger than that of the King and even had the best cooks in the land.

Every day from seven in the morning, when he watched the changing of the Cat Guard, to five in the afternoon, the King inspected every root of every Dike Tree in the kingdom. Only after that important task was finished each day would King Bitram hurry back to his castle to get his red stilts and start racing through his marble halls and garden stairs. The people thought it looked strange, but they knew the king worked hard and well as his job and if he wanted to have a bit of fun then he should be allowed to do whatever he wanted to do. Unfortunately Lord Droon was the one person in Binn who did not like fun and who sulked long enough that the decided to steal the King's stilts, which is when things start to go bad for both King Birtram and his people.

What makes this an interesting book is that, as is usually the case, Dr. Seuss is telling a story that imparts lessons to both young readers and older readers alike. If anything it is the latter that are the target audience for this story, since we see that being able to play is as important as hard work. As long as someone works long and hard they deserve to do what ever their heart desires when it comes to having fun. Meanwhile, younger readers would be getting the opposite lesson, learning that being able to have fun as an adult is dependent upon earning your enjoyment (which makes it clear that "The King's Stilts" is really more for adults).

I was actually surprised that "The King's Stilts" was written in 1939, because if I were trying to guess at what inspired Dr. Seuss to tell this particular story it would have been the concern in the press about President Dwight D. Eisenhower playing golf so often (I thought King Birtram looked a bit like Ike). But evidently Dr. Seuss was going for a more universal idea here. Meanwhile there is the entire subtext of how a kingdom might be lost because of a pair of stilts the same way as the old story about the battle lost for the want of a nail, which only serves to prove that with the good doctor there are always multiple levels to the story and its lessons.
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Many young people are unsure about the proper balance between work and fun. As a result, they tend to overemphasize one or the other. Dr. Seuss has created a wonderful book here to relieve youngsters of the sense that they should work hard all of the time.
This is an early book by Dr. Seuss, and it is written in prose rather than rhyme. Despite this, the prose often has a definite meter, and he sneaks in rhyming words now and again.
The illustrations are predominately in black and white, but splashes of red are used for emphasis to good effect.
The story is quite funny. The king's passion is to run around the kingdom on his red stilts. But he never does so until after putting in a full twelve hours of grueling work.
Never was there a harder working king than Birtram. He even signs papers while taking a bath at five in the morning!
He feels very responsible, because he kingdom is threatened by natural disaster if he lets down his guard.
Who could begrudge such a fine king his fun? Well, there is one who does. Where could that lead?
I also found the book very good for introducing the concept of how we all rely on one another for our well-being. For example, this story can also help a parent explain the need to go to work, despite a sincere desire to stay and play with her or his child.
I think the book is good, too, for helping children think about what kind of work they might want to do when they are older. What benefit would they like others to receive from their work? How hard would they like to work? What difficulties would be bearable, and which would be too much?
After you finish enjoying this book, I suggest that you and your child spend time planning how you can have more fun playing together, and still meet your responsibilities. You can also tell your child about different kinds of work that adults do, and what the stresses and strains are. Although no four year old is going to choose a vocation, it is never too soon to start providing the raw material for mental exploration of work alternatives. Most of us will spend more time working than anything else we will do in our lives except sleep!
May you and your family find ways to play hard that energize and excite you to do your work well!
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on August 1, 2005
This is more of a personal note than a review, but it serves to show how a children's book can resonate through an entire lifetime.

My first encounter with THE KING'S STILTS was hearing my mother translate each sentence into Hungarian for me. I was less than five years old, and lying in my crib. As she turned each page, she leaned the book toward me and showed me the picture. I remembered those pictures, and that fragile world under sea level -- a world constantly under threat of annihilation by wicked black birds who attacked the trees on the levee which were protected only by cats.

The place was Cleveland in the then Hungarian neighborhood around Buckeye Road. Because everyone around us was Magyar, my parents never taught me English until I got sent home from kindergarten with a note pinned to my shirt: "What language is this child speaking?" Needless to say, Mrs Idell was not one of my countrywomen.

Throughout my life, I was always impressed with levees, as when I read William Faulkner's story "Old Man" and John McPhee's essay on keeping the banks of the Mississippi in place in THE CONTROL OF NATURE. One day, I had a madeleine-like damburst of memory: I saw the book almost entire in my mind's eye and used a search engine to reveal the title. Reader, I bought the book; and it was exactly as I remembered.

I have read it several times since and love it for the reason that it stuck in my memory for more than 55 years. Of course, it's a rollicking good story, too, with an excellent moral: Never give up the things you love.
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on September 18, 2014
"And when they played they really played. And when they worked they really worked." This book was a timeless message about needing playtime in your day in order to feel strong and healthy when it is time to work.

This book was longer than I expected it to be. It was long enough to split into very short chapters so it is not a very fast read for little children. It is also written at the 4th grade reading level. Therefore I believe they need to bump up their age recommendation to at least 2nd grade.

The illustrations are mostly black and white with some red in them. Because the illustrations are so well done and are interesting, the fact that they are not in color does not take away from the quality in any way.

This is another wonderful Dr. Seuss book that teaches a necessary message.
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Dr. Seuss (Theodore Seuss Geisel) sure did have a "thing" about kings in his early writings! This was his 3rd children's book, and we're certainly much fonder of the good King Birtram of Binn in this book than the snarling King Derwin of Didd in "The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins" and "Bartholomew and the Oobleck"! All three of these books were written in prose rather than Seuss's usual rhymes, and the majority of the illustrating in all three is in black & white (with just one primary color accentuating certain items), but this is the ONLY one of the three that our 5 year old (next week) grandson has asked to be read to him again. We think that says a lot for the storyline, since we don't believe the interest level of a typical 5 year old can usually be held for long in this world of jazzed up everything! Grandpa & I love that it teaches two of the most important life lessons a child can learn and keep in mind as he grows... how critical it is to have balance between work and play, and the negative ripple effects when that balance is thrown off.

King Birtram is an early riser - from 5-7 a.m. each day he multi-tasks, doing his paperwork while he also takes care of his personal grooming and eats breakfast. His days are spent caring for the Dike Trees, which - with their thick, knotted roots and close spacing - protect the kingdom from the sea. These spicy trees' roots are a favorite food of the giant Nizzard birds, and Birtram spends his the bulk of his mornings carefully maintaining a fleet of large and smart Patrol Cats to chase the Nizzards off, preventing them from destroying the Dike Trees (and he treats these cats very well --- another good lesson for our future leaders!) His afternoons are spent making his inspection rounds of the Dike Trees that border three sides of the kingdom. But at 5pm, he knows that all work and no play makes Birtram a very dull king, so he hops on his red stilts and really lets his hair down! The problem arises when the scowling Lord Droon, who believes this stilts nonsense is beneath the dignity of a king, steals the stilts - sending Birtram into a depression, which in turn negatively affects his ability to do his best work, which negatively affects the Patrol Cats, who get lazy and allow the Nizzards to grow bolder, which frightens the townfolk so much that they can't concentrate on their own work, etc. Birtram's page boy, Eric, saves the day by retrieving and returning the stilts, which then begins a POSITIVE ripple effect and leads to a happy ending for everyone except Lord Droon! We definitely recommend this book not only for kids, but as a refresher course for we adults! :-)
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on August 15, 2015
Dr. Seuss is not known for his complex depth, and this story shows it. Although it has a moral about vigilance against evil that creeps in and takes over, the story left me unsatisfied. I have not lost my child-like wonder, so I am left thinking the story simply does not inspire. I love Horton Hears a Who but I won't bother to read this book again.
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on January 4, 2012
A less than perfect king, a perfectly dastardly villain, and a young, stalwart heart. This one doesn't rhyme, and it takes awhile to read aloud. One of the master's lesser known stories. If you read this one to the kids on 'Dr. Seuss Day', they probably haven't heard it before.... Your school library probably doesn't already have this one - but they should...
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on March 6, 2013
This Book brought back memories of my childhood reading with my parents. It was a hardback bound with quality with tough paper so little don't shred it easily. I loved the art work then and now and look forward to reading it with my Grand children.
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on December 8, 2014
This is a Seuss book so you expect it to be a little off. We did not find it as entertaining as some of his more popular books, but the children did listen to it. I had made tuns fish can stilts with rope handles for my preschoolers to try and that helped make the book more interesting.
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on December 26, 2008
King Bertram is truly a hero for all ages. "When he worked,...he really Worked. And when he played,... he really Played." An actual story and not all rhymes, Dr. Seuss has once again written about ethical choices we can make and the impact our choices make on others. Even though it is not a classical tale in rythmes, you can still hear "Suess's" voice epically in each word. It's a long story, and my 6yr old can make it to the second to last page before getting restless. But the theme of living life to it's fullest lives on throughout our day.
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