Petro and The Flea King
By Kenneth Lamug
Rabblebox, $9.99, 164 pages, Format: eBook
Reviewed by Glenn Dallas
Star Rating: 4.5 / 5
Once upon a time, there was a selfish, ill-tempered little boy named Petro. After Petro broke his grandmother’s cooking pot, he decided to make a change, going off on an adventure to replace the cooking pot he broke. But Petro never suspected that his journey would involve everything from being washed out to sea and battling a giant to making robot friends and confronting the treacherous Flea King, a despotic little bug whose minions are wreaking havoc all over town! Would Petro complete his journey, topple the Flea King, and make things right, both for the town and for his grandmother?
Petro and the Flea King seems like a simple story at first, but when you give this children’s book your full attention, you realize how ambitious the narrative truly is. Although the reader does encounter a few Tagalog words in the story, otherwise the adventure is completely wordless. Instead, Petro’s story, his transformation from tiny brat to heroic, dutiful lad, is explored and explained only through character actions, facial expressions, and interactions with others.
This is a bold choice, but Lamug pulls it off brilliantly, creating a rich, vibrant, expressive world where animals are as intelligent and emotive as the human characters, and there’s never any doubt as to what’s going on, even if some of the cultural references fly right over the reader’s head. Lamug takes his traditional source material a step further, incorporating modern conveniences (like the bug spray Petro seeks in order to defeat the Flea King) and futuristic trappings (like the robot salesman) that add some wonderful fantastical elements to a tale steeped in Philippine culture and daily life.
The simple art style—almost sketch-like, employing black and white illustrations that allow for a range of emotion and action without overwhelming the reader with details—bolsters that traditional aesthetic, drawing the eye to the details we are provided, adding emphasis to certain characters and objects without being too obvious or overbearing. It takes a deft touch to do so much and make it look uncluttered, but Lamug succeeds here. And it almost goes without saying how immensely charming the characters are. The Flea King exudes cartoonish menace from his very first appearance, and his slow rise to tyranny in the background of Petro’s story only makes you root more for his eventual downfall. Along the way, Petro encounters a cavalcade of peculiar faces—from a spider-like creature and a monkey with a lantern on his tail to a whale that swallows him whole—and each character steals a moment to shine.
Petro and the Flea King is a fable with classic roots and modern touches that will feel timeless whenever it’s pulled off the shelf.