The King with Dirty Feet

The king has not had a bath for a whole year, and he is starting to smell. When the king finally bathes in the river, he can not get his feet clean. His servant Gabu has three days to rid the land of dirt and dust. Gabu sweeps, brushes, and stitches – as he tries to clean up the kingdom. This new picture book is a re-telling of an old Bengal folktale. It is gentle and humorous and has a twist at the end. The King with Dirty Feet is about a very important invention we cannot do without!

The King with Dirty Feet is published on March 8 2018 by Otter-Barry Books. The picture book is illustrated by Rhiannon Sanderson, who brings the story to life with fun illustrations that are perfect for age 3 – 6 year olds. She has created a sweet monkey character who appears throughout the pages, helping Gabu and teasing the king.

The king has dirty feet! Illustration by Rhiannon Sanderson

My best-loved tale The King with Dirty Feet has had many incarnations. It was the very first story I wrote. I was asked by writer and storyteller Mary Medlicott to contribute a story to a collection she was editing. The King with Dirty Feet is my version of a Bengali folktale called ‘The King and the Cobbler’ collected in  The Thief of Love by Edward C Dimock. The folktale was turned into a satirical poem by Rabindranath Tagore called Juta Abiskar (The Invention of shoes).  I wrote the story in biro and sent off a very messy, rough looking copy! I was amazed when the publisher wrote back immediately to say that they loved it! And The King with Dirty Feet became part of ‘Time for Telling’ published in 1991 by Kingfisher Books. The story was popular and Kingfisher re-printed the book and gave it the title of my story.

Since then this story has had a life I could never have predicted. The story was included in many collections, such as ‘More stories for 5 year olds’ edited by Wendy Cooling.  In 1995 it was made into the sweetest animation by the BBC for Storytime with me telling the story. It was part of an exhibition called ‘Global Shoes’ created by The Brooklyn Museum in New York, which traveled across the USA during 2000 – 2003. My version of the story was taken by several publishers without permission, including by an episode of Tweenies on the BBC, which breached its copyright and was difficult to sort out. In 2012 the story was made into an interactive app with artist Martha Tsiara  and composer Panos Ghikas, created by multimedia wizard Fotios Begklis of Marmelada. Keeping the app going has proved too expensive and it is no longer available. In 2017 artist Martha Tsiara created an installation and video combining her wonderful paintings with my voice telling the story.

Now the story has its very own picture book. The King with Dirty Feet is perfect to read aloud, helping younger children develop listening and storytelling skills with its rhythm and repetition.

Gabu covers the kingdom in dust from  ‘The King with Dirty Feet’ illustration by Rhiannon Sanderson

I am creating a new storytelling performance to go with the book. I will tell The King with Dirty Feet, and a couple of other shoe related fairytales. It will have musical sounds, actions, and some teeny tiny shoes for young audiences to look at!

The King with Dirty Feet and other stories of global shoes

This interactive storytelling performance is perfect for 5 – 7 year olds. It will explore how shoes are represented in fairytales and myths around the World, from magic moccasins to glass slippers, from dancing princesses to shoe-making elves. It looks at what shoes are made of, and their cultural meanings. Every shoe tells a story! Find out more and make a booking!


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