Unseen Text: Tiktok and the Nome King
Text Type: Children’s Story
Guiding Question: In what ways is this text designed to appeal to a young audience?
Less a text type, and more a category of writing, texts which appeal to children might appear in Paper 1. Whether a website with accessible or interactive features, a text book designed to educate or, like this text, a story presented in an engaging way, learning to identify features of texts written for children is a skill you can transfer across a variety of text types. Read the story of Tiktok and the Nome King and see how many of these features you can pick out for yourself. Then examine the answer below to see how you might construct an analytical response. As ever, this is just one way of writing about this text: alternative approaches can be equally valid.
Tiktok and the Nome King is a story by L. Frank Baum, author of the famous tale The Wizard of Oz. This story was part of a collection of short stories based in the same magical land. The story has particular appeal for young children because of the fantastical setting, magical characters and simple structure. Furthermore, the text is allegorical so characters stand for larger ideas and concepts. In this way, it fulfils the purposes of both entertaining young children and teaching them a helpful lesson about the importance of being polite.
Firstly, the fantastical settings are likely to appeal to young children. The action takes place in a fairy tale world of ‘jewel-studded caverns’, ‘underground palaces’ and a vast ‘desert.’ The word ‘dominion’ to describe the King’s lands comes from the register of fairy tales. Other uses of diction, such as ‘tinkered’, also fit this register. Children’s stories employ synonyms for variation and in order to teach young readers new vocabulary. Therefore, ‘angry’ becomes ‘roared and raved and stamped’, ‘machinery’ becomes ‘contrivances’ and ‘wheels, pins, cogs and springs.’ The list-like structure of sentences like this have an appealing rhythm, and also help to exaggerate the action in a way that can make stories easier for young children to visualise. At one point, a minor character says, ‘I’d soon look like a dish of mashed potatoes,’ using a simile that creates a funny image (treating violence in a cartoonish way is also a convention of children’s stories such as fairy tales).
As the story plays out in a world with which they might be familiar (Oz), the characters might also be recognisable to a young reader. In this case, Tiktok, the Clockwork Man, resembles the Tin Man from the classic story The Wizard of Oz and children are likely to enjoy the feeling of familiarity. Tiktok is a mechanical creation, ‘constructed’ in a way that might fire a child’s imagination: ‘he was made entirely of metal. Machinery within him… made him move… made him talk… made him think.’ This sentence makes deliberate use of a pattern of three, the rhythm of which would sound appealing when read aloud at storytime. Children are familiar with metallic or robotic characters – The Iron Man by Ted Hughes is another example of a famous children’s story featuring a mechanical main character.
Like many characters in children’s stories, Tiktok has a flaw. The workings of his metal body are controlled by three keys, and it is likely that one of these will wind down at any given time. Children respond well to imperfect characters, and the idea of his ‘thought machinery’ – or brain! – needing to be repaired is quite funny. Tiktok also has a‘jerky voice’ which could be funny and, at one point in the story, he ‘wound down just as he was about to reach his destination.’ His flaws also further the plot, creating a reason for Tiktok to visit the Nome King in order to repair himself. Meeting with a powerful adversary is a convention of fairy stories (Jack has his Giant; Snow White has her Evil Witch). Moreover, supporting characters in this story are archetypes, easy for young readers to recognise: the Wizard of Oz sends Tiktok off on his journey with a warning; Kaliko is the chief steward who welcomes Tiktok to the underground palace.
Children’s stories often depend on coincidence and so too with this story: it opens with the Nome King being ‘unpleasantly angry’ because ‘he had carelessly bitten his tongue.’ Being forewarned with this knowledge helps young children make predictions and anticipate the conflict to come between him and Tiktok. The writing creates this co-incidence with phrases such as, ‘it so happened that on this unfortunate day’ and ‘be careful what you say to the Nome King… he has a bad temper.’ These examples of foreshadowing help young children follow the story and create excitement as the moment of their meeting comes nearer.
The conflict between the Nome King and Tiktok is allegorical. It represents the conflict between the forces of adult authority, as symbolised by the king’s mace, and childhood rebellion. From a child’s point of view, Tiktok has been warned about the way he speaks to the king – but does not listen to this warning. When he ‘promptly walked in’ and speaks in a casual manner to a king (‘How a-bout it, your Majesty’) children might recognise aspects of behaviour they have been taught is wrong. When he directly insults an authority figure (‘I’m not afraid of a fat Nome’) children might react in different ways: gasp in shock that he dares speak to a king so rudely or laugh-out-loud at his use of the word ‘fat’. What happens to Tiktok at the end is quite shocking and unexpected, but there are opportunities for young children to abstract a lesson out of his punishment: to be careful how you speak to those who are bigger and stronger than you, or those to whom you are expected to show respect, such as adults, parents and teachers. For example, the text says that ‘had Tiktok’s thoughts been in good working order he would have said something else.’ It’s easy to make a lesson about how children should think before they speak from this line.
In conclusion, the text is likely to appeal to children who may read the story or even have it read to them. There are plenty of elements that they will enjoy for themselves, and also opportunities to discuss what happens and learn life lessons. Finally, the text is packaged in an appealing way, using simple pictures which add colour and help children visualise the fantastical land of Oz.
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