We got this from the library a few years ago and my son enjoyed it so much that he asked for it for his birthday this year. When he acts like the world revolves around him, as all kids sometimes do, I start calling him Ethelbert. It works wonders. Ethelbert is fun to read about but who would want to be like him?
Tiny Tyrant is a delightful little book, but be warned that the humor is not that subtle sort that adults find as appealing as kids. It's more that kid type of humor that smashes you in the face.
The title perfectly describes the book: King Ethelbert is six years old and the king of the small, apparently European, nation of Portocristo. He rules with an iron, if grimy, fist, and the basic joke in this series is very simple: When Ethelbert wants something, no matter how unreasonable, he gets it, because he is the king. And being six years old, he wants very unreasonable things.
For instance: When a dinosaur is discovered in his kingdom, he wants it named after him. Then he decides it is too small and demands that the archaeologist find a bigger one. Or fake it. He ends up in a lab demanding that the scientists there clone him a dinosaur, and when they balk, he impatiently grabs chemicals and a laser and does it himself. The story rockets off from there, and in the end, Ethelbert learns a lesson, sort of--that the little dinosaur is tougher than the big one.
Each of the other stories follows this same basic pattern: Ethelbert wants something, and he gets it through sheer force of will, combined with the fact that he is the king. Of course, the world being a complicated place, things always go awry. But don't look for Ethelbert to learn any lessons from his experiences; the only nod in that direction is the story in which he replaces all the children of Portocristo with robots that look and act exactly like him. Of course, the greedy little robots quickly eat up all the food and overrun the palace, screaming out unreasonable demands, but the episode is played more for laughs than as a lesson about selfishness.
Although it is actually a French comic, Tiny Tyrant reads like a Nickelodeon cartoon. The art has the same zany, caricatured quality, with big heads, exaggerated features, and simple but distinctive backgrounds. The humor is broad and slapstick, and the timing is reminiscent of animated cartoons, with double-takes, reaction shots, and jokes grouped in threes.
Trondheim and Parme eschew standard panels for their stories, choosing instead to let their illustrations float on the page without borders. Their work is well organized enough that this works, and each story is printed on a different pastel background, which helps unify the page. The storytelling is fairly complex, with nine or ten panels on a page and multiple word balloons in a panel, but the stories are straightforward enough that readers should be able to handle that.
This volume contains the first six stories from the original Tiny Tyrant book published by First Second in 2007. That book was digest-sized and, as a result, the comics were small and difficult to read. This new volume contains fewer stories but the larger format makes them much more readable.
-- Brigid Alverson
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Charming graphic novel about the 6 year old child king of the island nation of Portocristo. Ethelbert seems to wield near absolute power in spite of his age and he's both clever enough and bratty enough to abuse it in a manner that's both funny but doesn't actually end up hurting anyone (though he doesn't always get his comeuppance either).
Readers might be reminded of Calvin and Hobbes if Calvin had absolute power as Ethelbert's actions in his world seem to mimic a lot of Calvin's imaginary actions in his fantasy world.
The art work is colorful and absolutely fantastic in it's elegance and simplicity in conveying the story. I can't imagine a younger child, especially a boy, who wouldn't love this book and dream of what he'd do if he could be Ethelbert.
The French are different from you and me. They like their graphic novels smart, colorful, and consistently amusing. What other nation could claim the wonders of "Asterix and Obelix"? Who else has the chops to give us Joann Sfar on the one hand and then turn around to toss us the partnership of Lewis Trondheim & Fabrice Parme on the other? First Second Books, never afraid to co-opt the foreign so as to market it to one and all, has now brought us a title from the aforementioned Trondheim & Parme pairing. Now I'd like you to bear in mind that I am not a pushover on the subject of French GNs. To be frank with you, I love French graphic novels for teens but have never found one for younger kids that gave me anything but a vague sense of nausea/the willies. The "A.L.I.E.E.E.N." and the Sardine in Outer Space books do nothing for me. "Tiny Tyrant", however, is another matter entirely. Telling various tales surrounding a pint-sized ruler with very little common sense, I think First Second has a winner on its hands. It's hip. It's hilarious. And it's something I'd hand any kid if they looked at me mournfully and asked if I didn't have any comics on my library shelves.
Meet King Ethelbert. You can call him, Your Majesty. As the six-year-old ruler of Portocristo, Ethelbert's not just a pain. He's a menace to the very society he rules. If he's not conjuring up dinosaurs out of a laboratory or shrinking the world around him, then he's fighting with his insufferable cousin Sigismund or kicking Santa Claus in the rear. Ethelbert isn't all bad, of course. I mean he's perfectly nice to Princess Hildegardina (though that might be because she's three times as rich as he is and he wants to prevent his cousin from marrying her). And he sends a guy over to India for an all expense paid vacation (though, to Ethelbert's mind, it was the worst punishment he could conjure up). All in all, he's not the kind of monarch you'd necessarily like, but he does happen to be a king you'll have a hard time putting down. This book is a collection of the best "Tiny Tyrant" stories from eight different French volumes.
Basically the book won me over to its charms right from the start. In "Safety First" Ethelbert finds himself in the care of a bodyguard. Not content to get just any old protector, however, the king decides to test his new servant in the hopes of finding a chink in the man's admirable abilities. So what do you do when you want to test your new bodyguard? You put a price on your own head, naturally. When groups from all over the globe start showing up, the sheer variety of them is delightful. Everyone from The Family Farmers Liberation Front to a Michigander ambush performed by the Dastardly Detroiters, takes a hand. Not for the first time would I wonder to what extent translator Alexis Siegel and (uncredited) Edward Gauvin added their own personal touches to these exceedingly funny bits of wordplay. Princess Hildegardina, for example, speaks with a lofty convoluted speech that frequently leaves Ethelbert tongue-tied himself. How many of these words are direct translations of the French and how many the delightful vocal curlicues of Siegel and Gauvin?
I would like to point out that not just anyone can do humor and I credit author Lewis Trondheim on some of Ethelbert's finer ridiculous aspects. When a group of Ethelbert lookalike robots takes over the palace his doubles offer a list of demands that are exceedingly magnificent in their silliness. For example, "I wanna see a death match between a giraffe and a penguin." If I can take nothing else away from the book, let me at least take that.
Were it not for the book's bookflap, I might not have noticed that artist Fabrice Parme draws quite a lot of inspiration from "the classic animation of Mr. Magoo and The Pink Panther." Thinking about it, you can definitely see the mod influences here. And I was particularly taken with the look of Ethelbert himself. It's difficult to tear your eyes away from those eyebrows that float about a foot above his head and are roughly the same size as his body from the neck down. Lest you believe this penned by an American artist, however, I did find a couple instances here and there that were particularly daring by U.S. standards. For example, in the story "A Mountaintop Inheritance", Ethelbert and Sigismund fight over their now deceased great-great-Aunt's inheritance. As their squabble disintegrates over a single gold ingot, they start pulling various firearms at one another from a host of weapons lying on the floor. Trust me when I say that it works, but you can definitely see the horror that will grace some parents' faces when they come to that part of the book. Then again, we all grew up watching Warner Brothers cartoons where pulling a gun on someone was an act of humor (much as it is here) so I don't think any lasting damage will crease your own tiny tot's head as a result. Still, keep an eye out for squeamish adults. They may have something to say about this section.
I find it more than a little coincidental that "Tiny Tyrant" is getting a release on the exact same day as David Horvath's picture book, Bossy Bear. Look me in the eye and tell me these two books don't have a lot in common. Right here. Right in the eye. Now tell me. Can't do it, can ya? Yeah, no, I didn't think so, and why? Because the color scheme is frighteningly similar. The drawing style has some pretty familiar elements. Plus there's the mild fact that both books are about crown-wearing tiny tots with egos the size of Goodyear blimps. A good pairing? Not necessarily since there's the difference in age level to take into account here. Still, should you wish to get your nine-year-old and five-year-old nieces and nephews some related gifts, this wouldn't be an unlikely pairing.
On its own "Tiny Tyrant" is sure to amuse plenty of kids and adults alike. If petulant dictators with little education and even less interest in the the plight of the common man are your cup of tea (and in this day and age, how could they not be?), you may find in this book a fun house mirror for our times.
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I am an elementary school librarian, and I thought this sounded like a fun title for my students. Unfortunately, I don't think it belongs in an elementary library. It's a little too rude, has various insults that I would not care to hear my students using, and also mentions suicide and killing each other with guns. I found it amusing, but I would rather not have it in my school library.
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