The Three Golden Keys
Text and illustrations by Peter Sis
As I mentioned in a review of another book, there isn’t a lot of children’s literature related to the topic of travel. Thankfully the small number of books that have been written are quite lovely. The Three Golden Keys is native Czech Peter Sis’ beautiful homage to his homeland, specifically written for his daughter Madeline, who was born and grew up in the “New World” (the United States) and not the “Old World” (the Czech Republic).
The premise of the book involves a man who is traveling in a hot-air balloon but gets blown off course and ends up landing in Prague, the city of his childhood. He makes his way back to his old home and discovers it locked with three padlocks on the door. He knows he needs to find the three keys to the padlocks that will let him in his childhood home and goes off in search of them with the help of a black cat. They come to a special place from the man’s childhood three times, and each time an old Czech legend is revealed to them.
The book is geared for children eight and older, as the text is quite heavy and more advanced in certain parts of the book, especially when the old legends are revealed. The legends are obviously historical in nature; one of them about the Charles Bridge explains how it did not receive the name of Emperor Charles until 1870. Until then it had always been referred to as Stone Bridge or Prague Bridge. I would also think that some younger children might even be a bit frightened with some of the illustrations, since the story takes place at night when the sky is dark and the streets are completely emptied of people. The book contains beautiful illustrations, including one of the city showing the locations of places the man and the cat visit during the story (Prague Castle, Charles Bridge and the Orloj Astronomical Clock). What I liked most about the book was that Sis wrote it with such vivid imagery you feel as if you too are walking the streets of Prague as the man and the cat travel through the city to locate the three golden keys.
If there is one word to describe the book, I’d say it was melancholic, not necessarily in a bad way, but slightly sad all the same, since the man walks the streets of Prague alone as he relives memories from his past. I listed the age group the book is geared towards, and yet adults I’m sure would find The Three Golden Keys lovely too. I think anyone who has ever moved away from their childhood city would love the chance to be able to revisit past memories.