A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that there is a surprisingly high level of violence for a book that looks like it's for middle graders. Most of it is played for laughs, but it involves severe beatings with serious and lasting injuries.
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What's the story?
An old Spanish man in the 1500s becomes obsessed with books on chivalry, loses his mind, and decides he is a knight errant. Convincing a peasant neighbor to accompany him as his squire, he travels around the countryside, wearing an old suit of armor and riding a nag, attempting feats of knighthood that are mostly in his imagination. While doing so, some of those he meets, hearing about his insanity, play a variety of tricks on him, some amusing and some cruel.
Is it any good?
This is a peculiar, if well-intentioned, effort. Illustrated retellings for children of classic adult literature is a large and controversial genre: some think that they take away the pleasure of discovering the real thing later in life, while others believe that it enriches their childhoods. But whichever side you fall on, this one is indeed a very strange concept for a children's book. Start with a story in which the main characters are a deranged old man and his middle-aged sidekick, neither likely to appeal to children. Take nearly 350 pages of often very formal prose, with a few weird anachronisms thrown in, to retell it, and do so in a way that enhances the insanity while leaving out any sense or emotional involvement the original might have had. You end up with a story whose only appeal is the occasional bits of slapstick humor and nonsense.
Stranger still was the decision to hire a brilliant illustrator, Chris Riddell, who created a wealth of hilarious illustrations, which the book designer then hid, for the most part, behind opaque blocks of text, so that only bits of them are peeking out. This is a large, handsome volume, with pictures on nearly every spread, printed on heavy, glossy stock, and the price reflects this. But they have done a disservice to the illustrator, and chosen and rewritten the story in a way that will have limited appeal to its target audience.
From the Book:
Somewhere in La Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing. An occasional stew, beef more often than lamb, hash most nights, eggs and abstinence on Saturdays, lentils on Fridays, sometimes squab as a treat on Sundays -- these consumed three-fourths of his income. The rest went for a light woolen tunic and velvet breeches and hose of the same material for feast days, while weekdays were honored with dun-colored coarse cloth. He had a housekeeper past forty, a niece not yet twenty, and a man-of-all-work who did everything from saddling the horse to pruning the trees. Our gentleman was approximately fifty years old; his complexion was weathered, his flesh scrawny, his face gaunt, and he was a very early riser and a great lover of the hunt. Some claim that his family name was Quixada, or Quexada, for there is a certain amount of disagreement among the authors who write of this matter, although reliable conjecture seems to indicate that his name was Quexana. But this does not matter very much to our story; in its telling there is absolutely no deviation from the truth.