Canadian cartooning superstar Kate Beaton follows up her stellar kidlit debut, The Princess and the Pony, with the story of a demanding infant who holds court over his entire family. The narration is delivered in the form of pre-verbal King Baby’s thoughts, and readers watch as his parents attempt to intuit his needs and desires from gestures, expressions, and burps. In return for their attentions, King Baby offers the sheer joy of his adorable presence. “You will have smiles and laughs and kisses. You will have wiggles and gurgles and coos!”
The parents are pretty good at satisfying their tyrannical baby’s whims, but King Baby is exacting in his standards. When his parents prove unable to bring him the correct toy in a timely manner, he decides to get it himself. His first steps (well, flops and crawls) toward independence are filled with resentment and disdain, yet propel him toward self-sufficiency. Mobility achieved, King Baby transforms himself into “a big boy” and is very proud. However, he worries his parents will suffer a meaningless existence without his never-ending demands. “But what of these poor subjects? Who are they, without a king?” Fortunately, Mom and Dad have big news: Queen Baby is on the way.
Beaton’s characterizations are strong, and it is impossible to read the book without adopting a preposterously grandiose regal voice. The book is a fun, light romp, and there is certainly something hilarious about an indignant, expressively eyebrowed baby rather than a clichéd sweet pile of joy. But where Beaton used her first book to turn the princess trope on its head, King Baby is much less subversive: white males with inflated senses of self-importance are hardly an underrepresented group.
Make no mistake: while the medium of this book may be meant for kids, the story is one that will actually resonate with adults. Expect King Baby to make an appearance at many a baby shower this fall.