Title: Anna and the King
Author: Margaret Landon
Major Themes: Thailand
Synopsis: When a young Englishwoman is hired to be a governess in the court of the king of Siam, she experiences severe culture shock.
Many years ago, I found a rather nondescript, older book at a used books sale somewhere, titled Anna and the King of Siam. I brought it home and read it—and loved it! The story Anna Leonowens told about her years living in the court of the king of Siam as she attempted to teach his wives and children, especially, the crown prince, was fascinating! There were a lot of ugly scenes, as you can imagine in the court of an absolute ruler, but the story was great.
Anna and the King is the same story, retold for children. It is greatly cleaned up; unfortunately, most of the charm and interest has been lost in the process. It’s still an interesting story, but the wording seems stilted, and it is obvious that the detail has been taken out, in order to shorten the book majorly.
Anna was a widow in Singapore when the King of Siam (now Thailand) requested her to come to his court as a governess for his 67 children. Sending her daughter to England for school, she took her young son with her and entered a new world. Dealing with an absolute ruler was quite the experience for her, and at times she was shocked by what she found. The most memorable of these scenes was the woman Anna came across who had been chained to a post in an open courtyard for three or four years—although the king didn’t know about that one. Anna constantly had to walk a tightrope, trying to help the women in the harem, but not offend the king.
This book is a good introduction to life in Thailand 150 or so years ago, but I really recommend the original if you can stomach the occasional horrible scene Anna encountered. It is much more interesting; my children considered this version actually boring, unfortunately.
Listening Level—Ages 8 – 12
Reading Independently—Ages 8 – 12, 10 – 12, 12 – 15