It’s hard for Daniel to leave his warm bed and cozy apartment, but without a babysitter, he must accompany his parents to their nighttime janitorial job. While they work, they make up stories, transforming the empty conference rooms, messy kitchen and echoing hallways into a magical realm. Welcome to The Paper Kingdom.
Author Helena Ku Rhee writes from her own personal experience, having also gone with her parents to their night custodial jobs. Her narration rings with honesty as Daniel’s voice changes from sleepy and surly to curious but frustrated as he sees how hard his parents work to clean up the messes created by the office workers.
Illustrator Pascal Campion expertly uses colors to build a sense of atmosphere on every page. Readers will feel the warm glow of a lamp, hear the squeaky shine of newly mopped floors and see the blur of the city through bleary eyes. The facial expressions of Daniel and his parents are simple but convey their emotions (especially their exhaustion) clearly and unmistakably. Campion’s digital brushstrokes vary from soft and vague to finely detailed. Plants become bold strokes of color, while bathroom-stall doors are sharp and precise. This variety—along with a few magical touches—brings readers into Daniel’s sleepy, dreamlike state and makes every page feel like a slightly hazy memory.
The Paper Kingdom salutes the sacrifices that parents make for their children and movingly acknowledges the work of those who toil while the city sleeps. It’s an affectionate tribute to the bonds of family and the unexpected memories we form when we perform seemingly mundane tasks together. It’s also an homage to the way imagination sometimes works when we are young, and how reality and the possibility of dragons can mingle.