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A Revolutionary 2020 Humpty Dumpty Who Refused To Be A Cog in A Machine

... in "Humpty Dumpty Lived Near A Wall" by Derek Hughes and Nathan Christopher.

Myra here.

One of the things we are exploring for our current reading theme is the reinvention of familiar tales, showing the dynamic nature of the world of books: forever evolving, continually changing. This 2020 version of Humpty Dumpty, I believe, is the most revolutionary one yet.


 Humpty Dumpty Lived Near A Wall (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written by Derek Hughes Illustrated by Nathan Christopher
Published by Penguin Workshop (2020)
ISBN: 1524793027 (ISBN13: 9781524793029). Borrowed from Singapore’s NLB Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

In this subversive tale, Humpty Dumpty is depicted to be a cog in the Mad King’s machine, working tirelessly day in and day out, forbidden to dream, virtually whipped into submission.

This is a complex picturebook where adults can take away something very different as compared to bright-eyed young ones with their entire lives ahead of them. Critics and experts often argue about the “target market” for picturebooks. I maintain that they are for everyone. 

That being said, it is also important that there are caring and sensitive adults who are able to facilitate the unpacking of complex narratives such as these, taking care not to impose one’s adult judgment of any material to a child who may have a very different interpretation of the story.

It is important to recognize that we are able to take something different from the message of any story depending on where we are at in our lives. The fact that Humpty Dumpty refuses to stop dreaming and persists on finding out exactly what is on the other side of that wall is something that made me cheer inwardly.

What is clear for Humpty Dumpty is that he refuses to live a grey, drab, dreary existence devoid of dreaming. As to exactly what happened to Humpty Dumpty, I shall leave for you to discover. It reminded me starkly of Dan Santat’s After the Fall, although this one has noir resonances to it: a subtle-but-made-visible form of justified resistance against Monotony and Tyranny.

After The Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again by Dan Santat (Amazon | Book Depository) – see my review here.

To diminish stories like these as not meant for children is doing – not just the the message conveyed by the art but also – children’s intelligence and capacity to understand a huge disservice. This is definitely one of those stories I will go back to again and again.


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Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

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