King of Kings by Susan Hill Children's Book Review
by Susan Hill (ISBN 0744543266) is a Christmas picture book set in England. The tale is the simple story of a widower named Mr. Hegarty who experiences wonder and awe on Christmas when he finds and saves an abandoned infant at the doors of a derelict church. Though not expressed in so many words, the author's description of the chill night underscores the infant's grave circumstances. Mr. Hegarty takes the baby to the hospital, and leaves him in the hands of the nurses. He returns early on Christmas morning to be with the orphaned baby. King of Kings
This serious story has an honest and subdued character, and is told in a simple, modest style that is befitting of the somber subject matter of an abandoned baby on Christmas Eve.
Susan Hill's depiction of Mr. Hegarty is dignified and reserved, making Mr. Hegarty an appealing and likable character instead of someone to be pitied. I can't read King of Kings without shedding a tear! Mr. Hegarty is a lonely man who lives in a run-down area of an industrial port city on the coast of England. He takes comfort in the companionship of his two pets, Cat and a bandy-legged dog named Jacko, whom he has adopted. He lives in the same house he was married in and follows simple routines. Although his home was once in a nice area, the docks and wharves have crept into his neighborhood and brought with them the shabby presence of decay. Mr. Hegarty does not feel sorry for himself, but Hill's storytelling leaves no room for mistaking the loneliness this half-forgotten widower feels on Christmas Eve.
The few presents he receives are from a kind-hearted neighbor who has left them on the doorstep before joining family elsewhere in the city. In spite of the Christmas band playing on the street corner, and the random kindness of a waitress who gives him a mincemeat pie "on the house." What is left unsaid in this story is as important as what is said. Mr. Hagerty lives out his life with dignity and perhaps a sense of resignment.
This book would work as a short story without pictures, but the pictures in King of Kings add to the pleasure of reading this touching story. John Lawrence is the award-winning illustrator of the story. His black ink and watercolor illustrations are somber and almost dreary, using a palette of browns mixed with grey. These pictures honor the serious tone of the story and are beautifully rendered. Jacko the bandy-legged dog is also a cute and playful presence that livens up this somber story.
This is one of my favorite Christmas stories. The story isn't over-the-top, and is a touching reminder to reach out to others during the holiday season and during any time of the year. King of Kings is, on another level, an allegory of Christ's birth in an unusual modern day setting. By saving the small baby boy, Mr. Hegarty himself finds a renewed life and hope. I particularly like this Christmas story because it alludes to the central religious focus of Christmas—the nativity, or birth of Christ—without retelling that story.
If you are looking for a wonderful story to add to your collection of Christmas books, this one is a must-have. Susan Hill, the author, though well-known in Britain for her short stories, doesn't have the popular following of other authors of religious children's books, like Max Lucado, who wrote The Crippled Lamb. You can read my review of that story by following the link. However, I think that King of Kings is on par with this other popular writer's stories and has a simple honesty that can only be found in realistic fiction.
This story was published by Candlewick Press, a publisher of Christian children's books.