Humpty Dumpty

Humpty Dumpty

by Etienne Delessert

For hundreds of years, children have delighted in reciting the classic nursery rhyme of Humpty Dumpty’s fall. Over the centuries there have been many different interpretations, but some speculate that it was originally a riddle: “What could fall and break, but could not ever be repaired?” An egg is certainly one possible answer.


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For hundreds of years, children have delighted in reciting the classic nursery rhyme of Humpty Dumpty’s fall. Over the centuries there have been many different interpretations, but some speculate that it was originally a riddle: “What could fall and break, but could not ever be repaired?” An egg is certainly one possible answer.

Renowned artist Etienne Delessert considers instead the wall, and how walls can become a division between society’s “haves” and “have-nots.” In his haunting and beautiful rendition, Delessert tells the story of King Humpty Dumpty and his lavish paradise, raising questions about the walls we build between each other and the perils they pose, not only to those excluded, but often to the wall-builders themselves.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A fascinating exercise in imagination." Publishers Weekly

King Humpty's bright world -- rendered in watercolor and Prismacolor pencils -- is mesmerizing.
The New York Times Book Review

Publishers Weekly
Delessert (The Seven Dwarves) imagines King Humpty Dumpty as a pop-eyed, deluded monarch who lives a life of ease in a castle surrounded by miserable peasants. It's their discovery of his wealth, Delessert proposes, that prompts King Humpty to build the wall around his castle even higher, and his fall during its construction that the famous nursery rhyme commemorates. The formidable paintings of King Humpty's hallucinogenic gardens and the pig-nosed bunnies who wait on him provide ironic counterpoint to passages of text describing his pampered life. "After a nap, King Humpty practiced the art of archery. His crossbow had been made especially for him in Switzerland." The spread shows a row of servants with apples on their heads, cowering as the king takes aim. The story looks headed for a cheerful ending, possibly with the peasants rowing on King Humpty's pond after his demise, a conclusion younger readers might have welcomed. But these peasants are so downtrodden that even their oppressor's death doesn't relieve their misery. "The peasants, in a humble ceremony, laid him to rest on their side of the fence. Then they wandered back into their night," it ends. A fascinating exercise in imagination, but a disheartening read. Ages 5-8. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
From the brief, centuries-old nursery rhyme, Delessert has taken the main character of this contemporary fable of a wall and what happens on either side. In his Humpty Dumpty's kingdom, on one side of the wall are sunshine and flowers, where the king enjoys a life of great luxury. On the other side, live poor peasants toiling in darkness. Curious about the light they see there, the peasants peek over the fence. "Enraged by this breach of his security," the king dismisses his guards and servants and begins to build a much higher wall of stones. But his easy life has made him weak, so he has "a great fall." The peasants bury him and go back "into their night." The reader is left with both the nursery rhyme and the possible moral of the tale to figure out. Delessert visualizes his characters sculpturally in theatrically dramatic double-page scenes. Humpty Dumpty has an odd, ovoid head with upturned nose and small round eyes, while the peasants are gray, rodent-like anthropomorphic creatures. Added attractions are the ornithologically realistic multicolored birds, a garden full of exotic blooming flowers, and an "elegant meal" served by a quartet of long-eared servants. The pages exude a strange sense of magic along with a verbal and visual story to ponder. 2006, Walter Lorraine Books/Houghton Mifflin, Ages 4 to 10.
—Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
K-Gr 4-King Humpty Dumpty surrounds his world with a fence, thereby separating his colorful kingdom from the dim, dusty domain of the peasants. He spends his days smelling the flowers, enjoying the songs of birds, eating elegant meals, admiring artwork (paintings of himself), and reading by the light of the setting sun reflecting off diamonds. When a curious peasant peeks over the fence, the enraged king fires all of his staff and begins building a higher barrier out of heavy stones. However, the pampered monarch is unused to such work and has a terrible fall, landing on the other side of the wall. The peasants bury him with little fanfare, and the book concludes with the traditional nursery rhyme. Delessert's gray-and-brown peasants resemble the whimsical mice and rabbitlike creatures in A Was an Apple Pie (Creative Editions, 2005). Humpty has an egg-shaped head with a large protruding nose and wears a golden half-circle crown. The surreal landscape is embellished with realistic-looking birds and flowers. The illustrations are the real strength of the book. Unfortunately, this interpretation of "Humpty Dumpty" is too bleak and heavy-handed and lacks child appeal.-Robin L. Gibson, Granville Parent Cooperative Preschool, OH Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A downright weird fable revisits (sort of) the lessons of The Selfish Giant, with a 21st-century twist. King Humpty inhabits an idyllic, sun-filled paradise, separated from the peasants by a high fence that lets only a dim light shine over. One evening, as King Humpty reads on his lake, the sun reflects off the enormous diamonds carried by his captive swans, attracting the attention of the peasants. When they peek over the fence, King Humpty sees them and, "[e]nraged by this breach of his security, he dismisse[s] all his guards and servants." On his own, he essays a higher stone wall, but "King Humpty's selfish life had not prepared him for such a task, and he had a great fall." Any possible lesson-is the elementary audience meant to see parallels with Israel's security fence? The USA Patriot Act?-falls just as flat as Humpty himself, the lumpishly surreal illustrations as intellectually removed from anything like character and emotion as the text they accompany. Kids who know Humpty from the rhyme (which ends the tale) will find nothing to recognize in this. Splat. (Picture book. 5-9)

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Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
8.50(w) x 11.00(h) x 0.13(d)
Age Range:
5 - 8 Years

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