The Paper Kingdom – Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

I was 21 and thoughtless. I and my co-workers ate popcorn with abandon, not thinking about the mess we made in the office. We were engineers, focused on producing mainframe (does that date me?) computer equipment and not much else. So when the cleaning staff asked us to be less messy, we were shocked out our self-centered world. Ever since, I’ve made an effort to leave office spaces, hotel rooms, restaurant tables, restrooms, and other places as tidy as possible, so that workers who are already tired of cleaning up other peoples’ messes (and who are often measured by how quickly they clean) don’t have unnecessary work.

But I’m thinking it’s a good lesson in awareness, thoughtfulness, and empathy to learn far earlier.

Text ©️Helena Ku Rhee, Illustration ©️Pascal Campion

Daniel lives in a tiny apartment with his parents who are night janitors. One night, they get a call from Auntie Clare who can’t come babysit while his parents clean. So he must go with them.

Text ©️Helena Ku Rhee, Illustration ©️Pascal Campion

Daniel wants to sleep. Maybe the car? No, his parents won’t let him. He is so tired, he feels like crying. But his parents turn cleaning into an adventure, one in a paper kingdom, where a conference room becomes a throne room and the bathroom becomes a dragon’s lair. I think this is my favorite spread in the book.

Text ©️Helena Ku Rhee, Illustration ©️Pascal Campion

Daniel gets upset that the dragons make such a huge mess. He wants to yell at them. But his father tells him:

Someday you’ll have to be king!…

Then you can sit in the throne room and tell the dragons to be nice and neat. 

As cleaning comes to an end, Daniel falls asleep and dreams of being king in a paper kingdom, one  where he wouldn’t yell at little dragons about their messes, but he’d make sure they cleaned up after themselves—

so mama and papa wouldn’t have to.

This book can be read as a tale for kids to consider cleaning up after themselves at home. And it can be read in the larger sense as we go about our lives in this world. Thoughtfulness is key. Making a mess just because you can often makes others’ lives more arduous.

Helena Ku Rhee includes an author’s note describing how this book reflects her own childhood where her parents were night janitors who turned an unpleasant experience into one of “possibility and magic.”

Pascal Campion, the illustrator, captures the child’s sense of nighttime disorientation at having to leave a comfy bed for an excursion to an enormous office building. The messy office is huge, far bigger than their tiny apartment. And the scenes in the bathroom with the imagined dragon and in the conference room when he pretends to be king are juxtaposed with the true reality of cleaning. The illustrations, in general, have a loose, watercolor-ish dreamlike feel.


Make an origami dragon

Pair this book with Pigsty by Mark Teague (published in 1994, there’s a reason it’s still in print)

Make paper airplanes and hold a contest to hit the trash can.

Clean up after yourself!

Title: The Paper Kingdom

Author: Helena Ku Rhee

Illustrator: Pascal Campion

Publisher: Random House, 2020

Ages: Preschool-3rd grade

Themes: cleaning up after yourself, imagination, thoughtful parenting

For more perfect picture book recommendations, please visit Susanna Hill’s website.

26 thoughts on “The Paper Kingdom – Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

  1. Sarah says:

    Thanks for sharing and reminding about this book. Time to borrow it from my library, after I do a little cleaning. (Tee hee).

    I remember my summer as a house keeper. Some of the rooms looked like a bomb went off. It made me super sensitive to the way I left rooms that would be cleaned by others.

    • Annie Lynn, AnnieBirdd Music, LLC says:

      I actually have one more perspective, and while I’m grateful for it, I feel guilty of not being aware of the important work that happens when we are sleeping, and who does it. I feel grateful for not being in Daniel’s situation, and I feel a heaping dose of respect and love for his folks for teaching Daniel (children) that you should always try to make the best out of a bad or unwanted situation. the art is magnificent. I have been a huge fan of Pascal Campion for a few yrs. looking forward to asking for this at our library. they are pretty good at taking requests. Stay well all! ✌️🏻💙🎶🎨📚

      • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

        Exactly! All the work that’s done “behind the scenes,” the work that few think about, the work that earns few “thank yous” and no awards. And that personal attitude can change, significantly, one’s experience of the world. Thank you for your comment, Annie Lynn!

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Yes! And also being thoughtful of others. I think you can approach the book from several angles, including the struggles of families with parents who work multiple jobs and have few choices for childcare.

  2. Joanna says:

    Love your personal introduction and that someone came up with this subject matter. I love your favorite spread and your activities. This is an eye-opening story for children, I think.

  3. ptnozell says:

    I haven’t read this one…yet! This is such an important topic, on so many levels. We all need to learn to clean up after ourselves, and to think about how our actions affect everyone else. (and yes, I remember mainframes. I also remember those computer cards -I spent one long summer during college working at a local IBM plant).

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Ex-IBMers unite!! And you know, I remember IBM during their heyday, when they paid 25% of the nation’s corporate income tax, and were proud of it. This was also the era of big oil, companies that paid little income tax in comparison. Ya gotta think that it wouldn’t hurt to get rid of tax loopholes so that everyone in our country could thrive, not just the 1%ers.

  4. FictionFan says:

    Yeah, the summer I spent chamber-maiding at a holiday camp made me much more aware of the mess I leave for other people to clean up. Some people really seemed to work at spreading chaos!

  5. Ste J says:

    Once again you find a wonderful book for us all to covet. I love the idea of turning cleaning into an adventure, something adults can get on board with to keep sane. Family and imagination are two of the best things about. I love the art work too!

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