Tuesday, February 24, 2015

DAY 11: The Artist and the King by Julie Fortenberry (Theme)

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Welcome to DAY 11. Today's lesson is on THEME.

The Artist and the King
by Julie Fortenberry
Title: The Artist and the King
Author: Julie Fortenberry
Illustrator: Julie Fortenberry
Publisher: Alazar Press
Year: 2014
Word Count: 572 (if I counted correctly)
Top 10 Element: Theme

A young, spirited girl brings new life and joy to her kingdom while experimenting with an unfamiliar and new art form.

When people hear "theme" they think of lots of things: thematic teaching units (a unit on math using vehicles, a language arts unit with farm animals, a science unit with a skeleton theme), birthday parties (pirates, princesses, legos, animals, Nerf, Pokemon, music, dancing, etc.), or maybe even "the theme of this year is..." (Let your light so shine, Do unto others as you want to be treated, The Blank Page, etc.).

But in books, theme is SO MUCH MORE THAN THE TOPIC. The theme is more than what the book is about on the surface. Theme is what it's about on a deeper level. The takeaway lesson. The "So what?" of the story. Theme is not to be confused with writing the unpopular moralistic or didactic "teaching" story. You can write a GREAT book and still get the theme across if done well. This book is an example of that. It is by utilizing character, conflict, plot, dialogue, beginnings and endings, that theme is able to come through.

While this book is also a good example of pacing and beginnings/endings, I believe it is THEME that made me purchase the book. It is such an endearing little book with a heartwarming theme told in a timeless way. When I read it aloud at the SCBWI bookstore, I instantly fell in love. Maybe because I heard the author speak. Maybe because it was the energy of SCBWI. Maybe because my sister is an artist. But, really it's because it spoke to me. It almost brought tears to my eyes. Nobody likes being rejected. Everyone needs love and acceptance. This book shares that exquisitely, and shows how forgiveness can bring people together and heal hurting hearts.

Daphne, a young artist, was drawing a mean picture of the king when the wind grabbed a hold of her paper and slapped it in the king's face. He yelled out and punished her by taking away her red artist's beret and replacing it with a dunce cap made of the very art she had created. Being the artist she was, she tried to make it look better, "less duncey."
Maybe if she wore it to one side. Or under her hair. She tried adding colorful decorations. And with a piece of fabric, the cap looked almost regal! With the right fabrics, it could match her different dresses. Soon she was getting compliments.
And she started selling her own.

But, of course the King noticed and wanted all the dunce wearers banished into the wilderness. He marched his army right into the town square.
And straight to his own daughter!"My dear girl, step aside or be banished with the others."The Princess threw down a cap.
And she "walked into the woods." I love that phrase "walked into the woods." Not only does it have great alliteration, but it is simple. Not stormed, trotted, ran, stomped. Simply walked. It shows how sad she was.

Daphne saw the King all alone and his spear hovering dangerously over her beautiful cap. She ran to rescue it, but noticed the King was crying. She apologized for the mean picture she drew. Then he apologized for being mean, even his own daughter had said he was. Do you feel the powerful emotions rising up within you yet? Daphne picked up the cap and handed it to the king.
"But your daughter loves you. Look!" said Daphne. ...For My Dear Father, with Love...Now the King was crying even harder.

"We can still bring everyone home." And so they did.

And the next day, even the villagers who had been exiled long ago were coming back home. And everyone shouted for Daphne, "Long live Daphne! Long live the artist!"

Now, THAT, my friends, is a good example of THEME.

Here's the link to add your own DAY 11 blog posts...


  1. Thanks for sharing a deeper theme. The icy blue kingdom behind Daphne on the cover doesn't appear to match the story. I'll have to read the book.

    1. Now that you mention it, you're right about the front cover. Perhaps Daphne painted it herself?!

    2. Interesting thought. But I think Daphne viewed her world as black & white. She was responsible for bringing color to the kingdom.

  2. I love your description of the theme as something deeper, the 'So what?' yet not necessarily a preachy moral. This story's a great example. Forgiveness can be a really hard thing!
    I hadn't heard of this book before. Thanks for sharing it, Christie!

    1. You're welcome! It might be for sale at the SCBWI conference again this year.

  3. What a nice story! Looks like the daughter's love melted the father's heart. <3

  4. Christie, great example of how deep and broad theme can be. All illuminated by character, plot, change. Love this. Thanks!

  5. Wonderful story of love and acceptance...especially with a father and daughter. Going deeper is a great way to encourage kids to read more than what is on the surface, and this would be a great book to help with that.

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  7. This is a beautiful book, Christie...I tried to get it from my library as soon as I read your post, but surprisingly, they don't have it...they seem to have everything else I ask for. :) I'll definitely check out some book stores for a copy!
    But the best thing about this post was your explanation of THEME...it eludes many of us when we are trying to write a picture book story...but you've made it so clear...thanks!


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