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King of Rome
by Dave Sudbury
Illustrated by Hans Saefkow
AGES: 5 & up
SIZE: 8 x 11
PRICES: US $16.95, Cdn $17.95
HARDCOVER: 978-1-894965-94-1

Publisher's Weekly

Charlie Hudson, a laborer in pre-WWI Britain, sent his best racing pigeon off to Rome to compete against a thousand other birds. The other birds perished in a storm; Hudson's alone returned to his home in Derby, bringing Hudson fame and his city pride (“When I set them free,/ it's just like part of me/ gets lifted up on shining wings”). Sudbury previously wrote a ballad about Hudson and his birds; here, first-timer Saefkow fashions dense pencil drawings to accompany Sudbury's text. Saefkow pays as much attention to the city scenery as he does to the characters and birds, giving every cobblestone, brick and shingle the kind of visual richness that charms young readers. Gray skies and grimy bricks convey the dullness of Hudson's life, making his triumph all the more poignant. While the verse has some powerful moments—“And when you live round here,” Hudson says, “the ground can seem awful near”—the lack of context may leave readers confused about what the race actually entailed, as well as the fact that the story has its basis in reality.



Resource Links

The King of Rome is a picture book illustrating the song written by Dave Sudbury. The song is the telling of the true story of Charlie Hudson and his famous racing pigeon. Charlie, a working man from Derby, England, finds escape from his bleak working life through his hobby, pigeon racing. When he sends his prize pigeon off to Rome for the championship race, Charlie’s friends chide him, telling him his bird will be lost, but Charlie feels to not have tried at all would have been the greatest defeat. Many birds perish in the race but Charlie’s stalwart bird returns triumphant bring joy and fame for its owner.

Dave Sudbury’s song is superbly illustrated by Canadian illustrator, Hans Saefkow. Beautiful muted blues, grays and browns combined with meticulous pencil drawings effectively capture both the mood and the era. By varying the perspective Saefkow creates the illusion of flight and movement. The text itself continues the theme by mimicking the movement of wings, drawing the reader’s eye across the double page spreads. The beauty in the design of this book enhanced my reading experience by providing unity between the pictures, words and mood.

This book could provide great entertainment by extending the topic with additional research. The Internet offers some interesting background information of the event depicted in this story, including a picture of the eighty year old “King of Rome” currently on display at the Darby Museum: The experience of this book could also be enhanced by listening to the actual song including the Canadian singer, Garnett Rogers.

This book would be suitable for supporting Language Arts curriculum. It is an excellent example of making the connection between music and poetry. It also provides a link to history, illustrating the use of poetry and song to record historical events.

I recommend this book for both school and public libraries but would encourage librarians to do some promotion with this book to prevent it from becoming lost in the stacks.

Thematic Links: History; Pigeon Racing; Illustrated Songs




CM Review

King of Rome is a true story about a working class gentleman called Charlie Hudson. In his English town, Derby, Charlie raised pigeons. He loved his feathered friends, and he gained a personal sense of freedom and hope when the pigeons took flight. In 1913, Charlie entered one of his pigeons in a race from Rome. On the day of the competition, a vicious storm swept in and over 1, 000 pigeons were lost in the tempest. To Charlie, the loss of his pigeon seemed to only further symbolize the challenging life lived by him and many of his fellow mates in the industrial town. However, his pigeon survived, received international acclaim and became known as “The King of Rome.”

    Dave Sudbury, who was born in Derby, has written several songs about his life experiences. Initially he sang his compositions at local folk clubs, but he subsequently recorded his songs on a CD. According to information on the last recto of the book, the title song of the CD, ‘The King of Rome,’ has been recorded by many singers.

    Hans Safekow, a graduate of the Ontario College of Art, who currently lives in British Columbia, illustrated the lyrics of Dave Sudbury’s song with pencil crayons. The detail in the artwork captures the historical period, and Safekow’s limited colour palette of brown, grey and black effectively communicates the atmosphere of the industrial town. The front and back endpages depict Charlie’s pigeon flying over Rome – the bird is positioned in the upper right-hand corner of the recto seemingly flying right off of the page. The single and double-page spreads are all full bleeds, and Safekow uses a variety of perspectives to convey flight and distance.


Goodreads review

In 1913, an Englishman by the name of Charles Hudson entered one of his pigeons in a long-distance race from Rome. Against the expectations of all the naysayers, and despite a terrible storm on the day of the race, Charlie's pigeon made it home: a return that became a symbol of hope to his working-class community. Immortalized in song a few decades later by Dave Sudbury, the tale of King of Rome has been performed by singers from June Tabor to Garnet Rogers. Here it is used as the text in Canadian Hans Saefkow's debut picture-book. 

"In the West End of Derby lived a working man. He said, I can't fly, but my pigeons can." And so begins a lovely little book, with beautiful pencil and crayon illustrations that perfectly capture the greyness of Derby, the glory of flight, and the possibility of hope: "Yeah, I know, but I had to try. You see, a man can crawl around, or he can fly." A thoughtful meditation on the importance of dreaming,King of Rome will also introduce young readers to a wonderful song!