Dear Dragon by Josh Funk, illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo (InfoSoup)
At two different schools, two boys are assigned to be penpals with one another. Their letters have to be written in rhyme. The boys start by talking about the assignment and school and then quickly move on to what they enjoy doing and their families. What the boys don’t know though is that George is a human and Blaise is a dragon. As each boy misinterprets the clues that the other is giving them about how different they are, a picnic approaches where the penpals are going to meet. What happens when the class of humans and the class of dragons finally meet one another? Success!
Funk cleverly uses fantasy to speak about how we see differences between one another. His use of dragons and the intelligent way that he hides the truth while all the while revealing it too makes for a fun book to share. This would be a great book to offer to children who are starting their own penpal assignments and also offers an opportunity for any child to see how things can be misunderstood even when they are stated clearly. It also speaks to our ability to think that people are just like us and the ability to see beyond physical differences and to the person (or dragon) inside.
The illustrations are playful and bright. They capture the ways that the two boys are meaning their messages. So one image is the way that the writer intended the message to be read and the other is thought bubbles for how the message is being interpreted by the reader. There is plenty of action and drama imagined about simple messages and then in reverse there are dramatic scenes that are completely misunderstood and downplayed.
Funny and clever, this picture book demonstrates that humans can see beyond green scales to the pal underneath. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from ARC received from Viking Books for Young Readers.
The Goblin’s Puzzle: Being the Adventures of a Boy with No Name and Two Girls Called Alice by Andrew S. Chilton (InfoSoup)
The boy had never had a name, since he had been a slave as long as he could remember. He tried to be the best slave possible, but all of the rules of slavery ran together and often contradicted one another too. When he is sent on a journey with the prince, the boy witnesses a murder and is suddenly free. Soon he finds himself in the company of a goblin who knows all of the answers about the boys’ past but is unwilling to part easily with them. The goblin agrees to answer one question a day truthfully, but goblins are tricky and can’t really be trusted. Meanwhile, Plain Alice has been mistakenly kidnapped by a dragon who meant to kidnap Princess Alice. These characters all find themselves facing issues of logic, dragons, ogres and other horrible deeds on their way to unraveling who they really are.
This novel is a cunning and complicated novel for children. It takes logic and loops it, confuses it and then shows how it actually all works out. It’s a puzzle and a delightful one. Young readers will enjoy the twists and turns, groan at the folly of some of the characters, cheer as others exceed their expectations, and those who love puzzles and logic will find a book to adore here.
The characters are well drawn and interesting. I particularly enjoyed the goblin, who twists and turns but also has a hand in making sure that things turn out right. The boy is a great protagonist, often confused and always seeing the world as new, he explores and learns as he goes. Plain Alice is a strong female protagonist, using her brains to solve problems and even charming a dragon as she does so. The entire book is woven with mystical creatures but magic does not save the day here. Instead, deep thinking and logic are the winners.
A puzzle of a book that twists and turns in the best possible way, this adventure is one for smart children who can use their wits to save themselves. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Knopf Books for Young Readers.
Dragons Beware! by Jorge Aguirre, illustrated by Rafael Rosado
Released May 12, 2015.
Join Claudette on her second quest as a warrior. This time it is Claudette’s father who heads out alone into battle, attempting to get his sword back from the dragon who swallowed it along with his legs and one of his arms. But Claudette is determined not to be left behind in town and heads off with just her dog with her. Her best friend Marie and her little brother Gaston join her a little later. Together they are all captured by the evil wizard Grombach and his army of stone gargoyles. Grombach has encased the entire town army in amber, using his ability to turn things to stone. When he is distracted by the Apple Hag, the children rescue people along with the Apple Hag who in turn is the one who finds the Gaston could be a magic user. The children continue on toward to dragon’s lair, managing to sneak past the dragon’s offspring and deep within the mountain. There they discover Claudette’s father trapped by the dragon and set out to rescue him. But it will take more than the power of the sword and fighting to get them out alive.
I adore Claudette, a girl who wants to be a warrior and never shrinks away from any battle no matter how outnumbered she is. She is entirely herself, proud to be the girl she is. At the same time, I love that she has Marie as her counterpoint. Marie is a girl who loves pretty dresses and worries about her hair, but she too heads into battle in her own distinct way, this time with diplomacy. Then there is Gaston, the boy who loves to cook but also wants to make his father proud so he’s working on warrior skills like creating swords. He’s not very good at it.
These three protagonists make this book a marvelous adventure. It is filled with their large personalities, laugh-out-loud funny puns and one-liners, and lots and lots of adventure, danger and battles. Claudette’s father fights despite being in a wheelchair and characters of all colors appear in the story. This is a celebration of diversity on the page thanks to the art by Rosado which ranges from completely silly to blazing fight scenes.
A very strong female protagonist is the center of these books and she will thrill children with her bravery. Appropriate for ages 8-11.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and First Second.
A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder
The dragon Miss Drake has recently lost her beloved human pet, Fluffy. She is rather surprised and even irritated then when her pet’s great-niece, Winnie, shows up with a key to her lair. Winnie and her mother were given the home above Miss Drake’s and Fluffy, or Great-Aunt Amelia as she was known to Winnie left directions on how to find Miss Drake. Soon the pair are off having adventures together, though Miss Drake has plans to make Winnie far more docile and polite. After flying to a shop up in the clouds, Winnie gets a sketchbook that has a tingle of magic about it. She sets to a project of drawing each of the pretty magical creatures she has seen on their trip. But soon her drawings have come to life and left the pages of the book. Now it is up to Winnie and Miss Drake to work together to catch all of the creatures, even the one that threatens the entire city of San Francisco and the magical world.
Each chapter in this book features tips on how to best train your human pet. The entire book is filled with humor and whimsy and drenched in magic. The book is pure adventure of the fantasy sort. The world makes sense, a hidden world of magic right alongside our own, specifically in San Francisco. There are spells to keep normal people from seeing the magical ones and this book has that wonderful touch of Harry Potter where the magic is right in front of us. The writing here is playful and jolly, setting the tone of a grand adventure with plenty of danger, problems to solve, and one new best friend to discover.
Miss Drake is a grand character. Having a book with the dragon as the narrator adds to the fun of the story and also offers a unique perspective. It would have been a far different book told by Winnie, since the humor of Miss Drake is not always apparent on the surface. Winnie too is a great protagonist. She doesn’t shy away from Miss Drake even when she is rude or shows her huge teeth. She stand up to her and it looks like at the end she is going to be a very different sort of pet than Miss Drake has ever had before.
Magic and humor come together in this warm and wonderful fantasy that looks to be the first in a new series. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Crown Books for Young Readers.
Shadow Scale by Rachel Hautman
Serafina was one of my favorite dragon books of all time and here is its sequel! I tend to really dislike seconds books in series, especially those that I love. They seem disappointing after the amazement of the first novel. Happily, this sequel does it all right. It continues the story of Serafina the half-dragon. The kingdom of Goredd has long born the brunt of the dragon wars, protecting the rest of the south. Now they must ask for help in order to survive a war. Serafina and the young queen learn of a magical weapon wielded by during the time of the Saints and Serafina sets off to gather all of the other half-dragons, the ones who populate her mind garden. But as she gathers new allies, an old enemy re-emerges and wreaks havoc on those that Serafina holds most dearly. Soon Serafina is without allies and has no one she can trust, and she is the only one who can save the others.
This sequel was a long time coming, but worth all of the wait. Hautman has once again crafted a world of dragons that fits into the dragon myth but also expands upon it and makes it come fully alive. She writes with such amazing detail, crafting a world of intrigue and wonder. At the same time, it is grittily real, with real repercussions, a world filled with bias and bigotry, faith that can be compromised, and a reliance on real intelligence and wit to save.
Serafina remains one of the great fantasy heroines. She reads as real, a girl trapped in a world with greatness forced upon her. She is a musician at heart but she must step up and also be a heroine for the world at large. Hautman shows the strong connection of music and friends, music and science. She creates a world around Serafina that is just as realistic as she is, but also populated by dragons.
Beautifully written with one amazing heroine, this novel is a worthy sequel to the first, and that is the greatest praise that could be given. Appropriate for ages 13-16.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Netgalley and Random House.
Prairie Fire by E.K. Johnston
Released March 1, 2015.
This sequel to The Story of Owen continues the dragon-slaying adventures of Siobhan and Owen. Upon graduating from high school, Owen joins the Oil Watch, the international organization that trains dragon slayers and their support teams to fight a variety of different dragons. Despite the damage to her hands, Siobhan manages to qualify to join the Oil Watch too, the first bard in a long time to do so. They must first survive basic training, designed to get them working as a team and Siobhan has the added problem of figuring out a role for a bard in a situation where it is about killing dragons, putting out fires, and tending medical emergencies. As their basic training ends, the dragon slayers are sent all over the world to where they are needed most. But the Canadian government has not forgiven Owen for what happened and their posting is not one that will forge a new dragon slaying hero. That is unless Siobhan can create the songs and stories that tell a different story.
With writing just as fresh and engaging as the first book, this new novel is superb. It builds upon the first novel, returning us to that wonderful world of alternate history with a modern Canada and North America awash in dragon fire. Johnston continues to show her prowess is rewriting history and filling it with dragons as well as creating a new Canada and United States with boundaries that shift and politics that are complexly drawn.
At its heart always though is the intense friendship of Siobhan and Owen, a bard and her dragon slayer, a musician and her muse. Johnston continues as she did in the first book to create a story that is not about romance but instead two complicated people who care deeply for one another as friends. Again, there is no kissing between the two and no longing glances either. It makes for a refreshing change.
A riveting read with a powerful ending that I am working hard not to spoil in the least. This novel is beautifully written, bravely done and purely epic. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Netgalley and Carolrhoda Books.
The Dragon and the Knight by Robert Sabuda
This new pop up book by Sabuda, a master of the form, is very child friendly. While I admired his remakes of the classics like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, those books spoke more to adults than to children. This new book is perfect to share aloud with a child who will enjoy a romp through different fairy tales. A knight starts chasing a dragon through different stories including Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, and Little Red Riding Hood. Each page opens to a different scene that pops open showing the characters of the story created out of the pages of their book. Entirely clever, quick reading and worthy of revisiting again and again.
Sabuda’s art in creating pop up designs will astound young readers. Two pages in particularly are stunning. There is the entire gingerbread house from Hansel and Gretel that pops into being in 3D complete with awnings, windows, door and chimney. Another amazing page is Little Red Riding Hood where the trees pop into a woods that has different dimensions and lots of height. Readers will also enjoy the little reveal at the end as the knight takes off HER helmet.
As always, pop up books aren’t really for very small children, but this is one of those that could be shared carefully with preschoolers who will love the detail and the incredible joy of the format. Appropriate for ages 4-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn
Marni lives with her Gramps on the edge of the woods where they grow flowers that the wealthy lords and ladies from the castle come to buy. The woods is not just a normal woods, it is filled with small creatures and a lady who has sung and knitted with Marni since she was a child. Marni doesn’t speak with the creatures of the forest anymore, but she had spent many hours as a child with them. Marni is not just any peasant girl, she is the daughter of the sister of the king, and her Gramps was once king himself. The current king, her uncle, killed her mother and now may be turning his attentions to Marni. After all she is not just human, she is half dragon, and her dragon father is expanding his woods to find her.
A large part of the delight of this book is uncovering secrets along the way. Hahn plays with this in her many-layered story, slowly revealing things that the reader may have guessed at. Startling readers with revelations at other times, ones that make perfect sense and click into the story with a neat precision. Told in a series of parts, the book takes place in three distinct locales. There is the hut that Marni lives in with Gramps and their odd but also stable life together. There is the king’s court where Marni is not only out of place but also targeted and unsafe. Finally, there is the world of the dragon, the lure of the woods and its dangerous beauty.
At the heart of all of this is Marni, also called Tulip, who finds herself a princess raised as a pauper. She is separate from the royal court but not entirely, still connected through her flowers and through her mother and the violent act that killed her. She is a girl who is strong enough to deny the fairies in the woods what they want, smart enough to survive at court without understanding the politics, and determined enough to find her father when she needs to. She is one of those heroines who is vulnerable and real but also startling and incredible.
Complex and rich, this debut novel gives us a new voice in high fantasy for teens. One who is definitely worth exploring and reading. Get this into the hands of fans of Seraphina. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and HMH Books for Young Readers.
The Worst Princess by Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie
Girl power is celebrated in this picture book that turns the princess role firmly on its head. Princess Sue has been lingering in her castle for over 100 years, waiting for her prince to come and rescue her. Just as she is about to lose it, her prince appears on horseback and whisks her off. But just as Sue thinks that she is heading to freedom, the prince arrives at his castle where Sue is given her own tower filled with dresses and shoes and informed that she shouldn’t even be thinking of adventures. But Sue refuses to give up on her dreams and when she sees a fearsome dragon flying nearby, she gets a clever idea.
I must admit to a certain adoration for books that take girls away from the stereotypical princess role and make them active participants in their own destinies. So this book is right up my alley. Told in rhyme, the effect is dashing and active rather than sweet and stately. It also has the feel of a bard’s story about Princess Sue. The writing is also humorous and fun-filled.
The illustrations of the book are bright-colored and also filled with humor. Sue’s long braids dangle down, her dress changes as the story progresses, and the sharing of tea with a dragon is definitely something to see.
Get this in the hands of modern children who want to be more than princesses (and princes) as well as dragon-lovers. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Random House.