A lot or a little?
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Ickabog by Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling was first published online in installments to entertain bored kids during the 2020 pandemic. The first print edition was released months later with illustrations by talented kid contest winners from all over the United States and Canada (for the North American printing). The Ickabog has a whimsy to it at first with a silly king and a prosperous kingdom full of wonderful pastries and sweet characters, but when things go awry the story gets much darker. There are many deaths, but most are just mentioned and not at all described. First a seamstress dies from exhaustion, then a man is shot by accident, and their young children and spouses mourn them heavily. A man is run through with a sword and buried in secret. Many people are kidnapped and killed or imprisoned, families are threatened with death, and people die of hunger, including many orphans and the parents who gave them up because they couldn't feed them. Orphans are abused mentally and physically and locked away -- they are hit, starved, and their given names are taken away. Kids fight and bully each other. There's also a fair amount of drinking by the king and his advisors and by the head of an orphanage, who is usually drunk. The Ickabog shows how powerful fear and misinformation can be when perpetuated by government. It also has some wonderful messages, like how your lost loved ones will always be in your heart, and how truth, understanding, and empathy can combat fear.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
In THE ICKABOG, things start to go wrong for the prosperous kingdom of Cornucopia when King Fred the Fearless decides to ride into the Marshlands in the north to fight a creature known as the Ickabog. At first people laugh, saying the monster is only a myth, but when one of the king's foppish friends shoots the chief of police by accident in the thick fog, his other conniving friend, Lord Spittleworth, covers up his guilt with this ready-made tall tale. Spittleworth even convinces the king that he had a hand in fighting the beast, and begins to perpetuate fear throughout the kingdom. Fear leads to heavy taxes for an army, the disappearances of dissenters, and the end of prosperity in Cornucopia. When two kids figure out the extent of Spittleworth's lies, they try to find a way to expose him and save the kingdom.
Is it any good?
This fairy tale, first written to entertain author J. K. Rowling's children, has that wonderful read-aloud quality, but gets much darker than you'd expect from the whimsical setup. Things are light and airy as we get to know Fred the Fearless, the king who's not the least bit brave and loves his finery. His kingdom is idyllic with joy and abundance everywhere and, most importantly, the most delicious baked goods imaginable -- apparently people cry out for joy when they taste a Hopes-of-Heaven pastry. When things go wrong for silly Fred, you'd expect a hasty resolution that includes some mild embarrassment for his highness. Enter Lord Spittleworth and Lord Flapoon, the worst friends and royal advisors imaginable. Some of their lies are still funny -- like the Ickabog monster expert they invent aptly named Professor Fraudysham. But their other lies, and their unquenchable greed, leave the kingdom completely in ruins.
Kids bring the story and the kingdom around, but after the loss of parents and much hardship. Daisy endures years in an orphanage in the care of someone even worse than Annie's Miss Hannigan. When things are at their darkest for Daisy and friends, they find all their fears are unfounded. What should they have feared instead? The lies of the corrupt government, of course. It's a hearty morsel of truth that goes down easier paired with Cornucopia's delicious pastries and the wonderful illustrations by talented kid contest winners sprinkled throughout the book.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how you first came upon The Ickabog. Did you read the online version as it came out? Did you buy the book? Which reading experience do you prefer? Why?
Were you surprised that there were so many deaths in this book? Why or why not? Why do you think J. K. Rowling made Lord Spittleworth so horrible and corrupt? Would the story have worked with a less despicable villain?
Would you read more about this kingdom? Why or why not?
- Author: J. K. Rowling
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Cooking and Baking, Magic and Fantasy, Princesses, Fairies, Mermaids, and More, Adventures, Fairy Tales, Friendship, Misfits and Underdogs, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Scholastic
- Publication date: November 10, 2020
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 18
- Number of pages: 304
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: November 15, 2020
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