Cole has a favorite knight of King Arthur’s Round Table. So he writes Sir Percival a letter asking to be his assistant knight. Sir Percival received the letter and cried, because knights do cry and he too as a boy asked to be an apprentice. Cole had a lot to learn in his new position. There were many things to do and figure out how to help Sir Percival be a great knight: lugging stuff, getting knocked down, and cheering him along. Sir Percival was also terrified of the Underwear Dragon, unfortunately that dragon arrived and destroyed the kingdom. All of the knights lost! So Cole wrote another letter, this time to the Underwear Dragon. But dragons can’t read, so the dragon ate the letter and just kept on destroying things. The Underwear Dragon finally faced off against Cole. Cole was scared, but had also learned a lot of skills. He used them all until finally the underwear flew off, and the dragon left. Cole became a member of the Round Table, but needed a nap before he could choose his own assistant knight.
Rothman has created a very funny picture book that plays against knight stereotypes, making them marvelously open about their feelings. He has a great sense of comedic timing where the impact is increased by page turns. The book has several montage scenes of things like “why knights cry” and “what Cole needed to learn” that are funny and boisterous. The Underwear Dragon himself gets his own montage of things that he cannot read, which makes for great comedy as well.
The illustrations are just right for reading aloud, whether to a group or individuals. There are many sight gags, offering just the right amount of silliness to an already funny book.
Funny, silly and full of knights and dragons. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House Books for Young Readers.
Stephen loves his Brooklyn neighborhood and spending time with his best friend Dan. Most of the time he doesn’t even notice that he’s Black and Dan is white. But when Dan’s cousin Chad moves nearby, he starts taunting Stephen for being a coward. As Chad dares him to enter an abandoned building, Stephen realizes that he’s the only Black kid in the group. Lately people have been reacting differently to him, now that he’s in sixth grade. People in the neighborhood suspect him first, assume he’s doing something wrong, and watch him in ways that they don’t Dan and Chad. Stephen begins to learn more about being Black in America, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the fact that there are different rules for Black children and teens. But Stephen doesn’t want to be assigned to a lane and stuck there. Is there a way for him to make his own lane with all of his friends, Black and white, included?
Maldonado has written a powerful story that unflinchingly shows the racism inherent in our society, the differences between the ways that white children and Black children are treated, and the dangers faced by Black teens in particular. The inclusion of Black Lives Matter and the focus on the many Black young people who have been killed by police is powerful, strongly tying this fictional story to reality. The realization of Stephen as becomes treated differently by others is shone with empathy and a call for social justice.
The characters here are well drawn. Maldonado shows how being a white ally looks in practice through Dan, how being a non-ally looks in Chad, and the power of friendship across races. But this is not shown as a solution for the systemic racism that he also shows with clarity. It’s a book that will inspire conversation that is necessary.
Powerful and thought-provoking, this look at identity and race belongs in all libraries. Appropriate for ages 9-12.