Olivier Tallec’s picture book is a perfect blend of captivating illustrations and brief compelling lines of text. It’s a fitting parable for the Trump era even though it was published before 2016. To be honest, I was going to post this book review in Nov. 2016, but I didn’t want to jinx the election… So four years and one month later, here it is!
Louis is just another sheep in the flock until the day a blue paper crown blows into the pasture. Declaring himself king, he takes over in the manner of megalomaniacal authoritarians the world over. It begins with his personal habits and effects: engaging in the ancient royal pastime of lion hunting and having a lavish bedroom. From there it moves on to acts of more consequence to his constituents. “But first and foremost, Louis I decided he must bring order to his kingdom. So he commanded his people to march behind him in sheep step. Next, Louis I decided that only the sheep who resembled him could live at his side. The others must be driven out.” And then one day when a strong wind comes again, Louis’ paper crown blows away, putting an end to his term as presiding monarch.
The pictures are double-page spreads in natural hues, with Louis’ blue crown or red garb setting him apart. Each presents a tableau of Louis enjoying one dimension of his life as a ruler, and taken together they convey the story of the rise and fall of a monarch in the manner of a graphic novel. The illustrations, like the text, include just the most salient details. In the chamber for ambassadors, Louis I’s stature is conveyed in his left foot on pointe and the two identical portraits of him on the wall. The deep bows of the attending ambassadors and the yards of ermine fur draped over Louis I shoulder drive home the point. Though the pictures themselves are very powerful, what really makes this book is how the brief text on each page works with its illustration. (The text quoted above takes up four separate pages.) That’s why I say Louis I, King of the Sheep is a perfect picture book. And like any good picture book, it’s not didactic. It simply presents the “facts.”