November 16, 2023


The Knight Snacker. By Valeria Wicker. Little, Brown. $18.99.

     The punning title here is but the start of a delightful journey into the nighttime antics of a bold, brave, adventuring little boy in a quest for that most crucial of all after-bed requirements: a good-tasting snack after a dinner that has been thoroughly unappealing. Valeria Wicker invites young readers to join Sir Julian, hero extraordinaire, after his “tummy-rumbling” hunger is disappointed at dinnertime by a concoction that his mother calls Fusion Fondue, which “looked and smelled deadly, like dragon’s ooze.” Sir Julian adeptly acts as if he is eating the monstrosity while surreptitiously dropping it onto the floor, where the family dog is quite happy to devour the whatever-it-is.

     Mission accomplished – well, mission of avoidance, anyway. But the larger mission begins at bedtime, when Sir Julian realizes he is “S-T-A-R-V-I-N-G” and absolutely must don his knightly raiment and “conquer a scrumptious snack.” The scenes of little Julian trying to be brave in the dark, when he cannot even reach the light switch, are funny and emotional (although not too emotional) at the same time: the illustrations here are digitally created but far warmer and more engaging than are many of that type. Realizing that going alone on his quest “was too risky,” Sir Julian takes along a companion – his favorite stuffed animal – and heads out of his room, only to have “a massive urge to tinkle” and therefore needing to confront a toothy, hairy, grimacing “potty monster” that is “glowing, ghoulish, and ready to gobble him up.” Anyone who thinks toilets cannot be funny really needs to see this one.

     Having succeeded in his bold bathroom break, Sir Julian continues through “the eerie hallway” and endures the approach of a “creepy monster” that turns out to be the family’s playful pup – only to find himself terrified (his hair gets very big and bristly) by a “hideous ghostly figure” just outside the window, which turns out to be “only his reflection.”

     And so the journey goes, as the brave (well, sort of brave) young knight reaches the kitchen and searches for a snack everywhere, even in “Mom’s top secret spot,” which is apparently not so secret after all. But alas, there are no snacks anywhere, “maybe from the work of a sorcerer,” and poor Julian ends up wailing a very un-knightly “NOOOO!”

     But then he realizes there must be some food in the refrigerator – and the good news is that there is. The bad news: it is Fusion Fondue leftovers. Oh no! Well, at this point “hunger was like a ferocious, five-horned, fire-breathing dragon,” so Sir Julian calls on his final reserves of bravery and actually tastes the stuff.

     And it tastes good. Oops. “Too bad he didn’t use his bravery during supper.” But better late than never, and Sir Julian, his hunger sated at last, bravely starts his return journey through the dark and dismal world of hallway and home, determined to call on his knightly prowess again the next time his mother tries a new recipe.

     Wicker does a wonderful job throughout the book with the confluence of knightly derring-do and mundane matters, and the illustrations of Sir Julian are funny and endearing at once – the cover picture of him wearing a colander, brandishing a large spoon, and carrying a soup ladle at his pajama waist perfectly encapsulates the book’s concept even before the story begins. Young readers will have a great time laughing both with Julian and at him (kindly) – perhaps seeing a bit of themselves in his nocturnal activities. And adults can use The Knight Snacker as a soft-pedaled teaching tool, urging young children to try new things, speak up if they do not like a specific food (or think they will not like it), and avoid danger-plagued nighttime food forays that require the use of colander helmets and pot-lid shields. Please.

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