With the exception of Sir Robin of Monty Python fame, knights always make me think of courage and valor. However, given all the country he must traverse, a knight is only as good as his horse. What happens if his noble steed starts shivering in his horseshoes? That is the premise behind Cowardly Clyde, a book by Bill Peet, former Disney animator and prolific author of picture books.
The title character is a gray and white horse in the wrong line of work for his nervous disposition. Hes got the right build to be a mighty warrior, and hes good at puffing out his chest and looking impressive, but on the inside, hes quaking like crazy. Will he be able to summon up the courage he needs when his knight faces his gravest challenge, or will he turn tail and run in his riders hour or need?
As a skittish sort myself, I found that this story had a lot of resonance for me. I can easily sympathize with Clyde; I certainly wouldnt be too enthusiastic about the dire possibilities that come with carrying a knight, particularly meeting an enormous ogre whos been terrorizing villagers. That beast is quite the alarming brute, reminding me of the monsters in Where the Wild Things Are but less friendly. His presence makes the book exciting as kids can ponder how such a beast will ever be defeated.
I love the name of the knight, Sir Galavant an appropriate moniker for someone who spends so much time in the saddle meandering the countryside. His excess of bravado is a bit wearying, in a comical sort of way. Hes a bit of a lunkhead, from the start it seems likely that Clyde is going to have an opportunity to bail him out of hot water before the story is over. Will it be physical strength or mental acuity that wins the day? How will he summon his hidden stores of courage?
The illustrations are wonderful and expressive. This isnt as colorful as some of his books, mostly greens and browns and grays, but it still feels vibrant. The expressions on the faces of Clyde and the ogre are particularly dynamic. Meanwhile, Peet carefully chooses some very colorful adjectives to give us a sense of Sir Galavants machismo and Clydes jitteriness. It all adds up to a thoroughly charming story for anyone who loves medieval adventures or who could use a little help overcoming his or her fears.
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