The King Who Banned the Dark by Emily Haworth-Booth

Values: Community, Joy and Courage.

This book, published in 2018, is highly acclaimed and has been nominated for nine awards. The blurb on the back, “An illuminating story about power, revolution and how we need the dark to appreciate the light,” perfectly sums up the clever nature of this book – it will be enjoyed by primary pupils from EYFS-Year 6.

In the story, there is a little boy who is afraid of the dark. However, this is no ordinary little boy – he is a prince who grows up to become a king. When he is a king, he decides to ban the dark in order to quash his fears. His government spread rumours for him showing the people why banning the dark was a good idea. In the beginning, the people were happy and they partied all night in the light. But, as time went on, they realised they needed the dark and planned a revolution to get it back. At the end of the story, a great fireworks display lights up the dark, night sky and the king is finally able to see the beauty in dark and overcome his fears.

This is a simple story and yet, the more you read it, the more you realise there are layers that are deeper and ‘darker’. The political themes of propaganda and revolutions run throughout the book and give this clever book plenty of scope to discuss History or British Values with older children. There are lots of Values you could use in conjunction with this book and a few I have suggested here are courage, joy and community.

Firstly, the Value of courage can be seen two-fold. The courage of the king overcoming his fears plays out and will be recognisable to even the youngest children. It is a really easy book to open up conversations about fears and worries, and how we could overcome them. The courage of the people in planning a revolt could also be interpreted by older children. The people team together to hatch a plan and turn off their lights one at a time, despite knowing it is banned in the kingdom. They risk breaking the law! A really interesting discussion around when people come together to protest against law and governments could be linked to real life with older children, and linked to their history or geography topics.

The Value of joy can be seen in both the people’s celebrations when the dark is initially banned (and how lovely to see such a diverse group of people illustrated too!) and also at the end of the book when the firework display lit up the dark sky after the people had rebelled. On the penultimate page of the book, it reads, “Every year on the same night, the people set off fireworks in the darkness – to remind themselves of what they almost lost,” and it is a timely reminder of finding joy in the things we take for granted. What do children rely upon that they would miss if they were removed? How did they feel when their normal lives were disrupted by Covid-19? What did they miss that they had taken for granted?

Community is another Value that you could use with this book. The king plots to trick the people into doing what he wants; but this ultimately backfires. We also see the power of the people coming together in order to overturn the king’s darkness ban. Like before, there are plenty of rich research that can be done on this theme – rebellions, protests, revolutions etc.

The illustrations and words by Emily Haworth-Booth are exquisite and it isn’t a surprise it has been nominated for so many prizes. This is a really clever, imaginative and nuanced book that you will definitely be able to use across the primary age range. One for a Values Bookshelf in all home, libraries and schools!

If you wish you get your own copy, try getting on from an independent bookshop, especially after the pandemic when so many have suffered. You can follow the author/illustrator on Twitter: @emilyhb. You can read a really interesting blog by Emily about her process of illustrating the book here. And, CLPE have made it a Power of Reading core book with teaching plans and resources on their website too!

Try exploring other books on the blog that use the explore the same Values using these hashtags: