Where Is the Dragon? by Leo Timmers

Cover image for Where Is the Dragon

Where Is the Dragon? by Leo Timmers (9781776573110)

When the king is too scared to sleep, he sends his three brave knights out to save the kingdom from the dragon in his nightmare. Armed with a sword, a polearm and a candle, the three make their way through the deep darkness of the pages, illuminated only when their candle gets close enough to chase away the shadows. The knights have never seen a dragon, so they talk about what a dragon looks like as they walk. Readers will see dragons in the shadows on each page, which after the page turn are revealed to be things like piles of fluffy sleeping bunnies or large plants with birds roosting on them or even bears and foxes curled up snoring. After falling into the water, two of the knights are ready to turn back. Just as the candle finally goes out, the knights head home, and that’s when a shadow starts to move…

Timmers has a marvelous sense of humor in all of his picture books. This book glows with that humor, as each shadow is cleverly revealed to be nothing at all. The dialogue between the knights is delightful, talking about the dangers of dragons from their flaming breath to spiky tails to sharp teeth. As each is discussed, the knights firmly declare that they are not scared or bothered. Just the page turns alone in this picture book are a joy, each reveal is great fun to guess at before turning the page.

The art is fabulous, from the big details of the shadowy dragon shapes to the small detail of the candle steadily shrinking as the pages turn. While the short knight has quite an uneventful hike through the forest, the other two knights find themselves in a lot more trouble along the way. The final dragon reveal is marvelously satisfying, particularly the final page.

Perfect for any knights and dragon fans you might have, this book is a great read aloud. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Gecko Press.

Attack of the Underwear Dragon by Scott Rothman

Cover image for Attack of the Underwear Dragon

Attack of the Underwear Dragon by Scott Rothman, illustrated by Pete Oswald (9780593119891)

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.

Review: Knights vs. Dinosaurs by Matt Phelan

Knights vs. Dinosaurs by Matt Phelan

Knights vs. Dinosaurs by Matt Phelan (9780062686237)

King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table love to tell tall tales of their adventures, but they are all lies. There just aren’t enough mythical beasts for them to battle. When Sir Erec brags that he’d slain forty dragons, he knew that he’d pushed the storytelling too far. It caught Merlin’s attention and Merlin suggested that Sir Erec, Sir Bors, Sir Hector and the Black Knight explore one particular cave. As they did so, along with Bors’ brave squire, they are transported back in time to when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Now there were more than enough “dragons” to battle! But they may just prove to be too much for our hearty knights. The question becomes who would win in a battle, a knight or a dinosaur?

Phelan clearly has had a ball writing this book. It is filled with jaunty references to King Arthur’s court and has a humor that children will love. The knights have distinct personalities from one another and beautifully grate on one-another’s nerves. The knights enter a world of real peril where Phelan creates moment after moment of battles, dangers and sword-swinging good times.

There are a couple of reveals here that invite young women to see themselves as knights too. In fact, the female knight completely rocks! The dinosaurs who battle one another with a joyous abandon add so much to the tale, something that dinosaur fans will love to see. The book has illustrations sprinkled throughout, breaking up the text for young readers.

A boisterous, battle-filled book that will appeal to young knights and young dinosaur experts and anyone looking for a good read. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperCollins.

Review: The Little Barbarian by Renato Moriconi

The Little Barbarian by Renato Moriconi

The Little Barbarian by Renato Moriconi (9780802855091)

In this wordless picture book, a barbarian mounts his horse and proceeds across a series of challenges and obstacles. They leap a crevasse, are attacked by a flock of birds, jump a pit of snakes, dodge arrows, avoid orcs and much more. Page after page is a new obstacle and the little barbarian blithely marching, leaping or galloping across the page. Children who enjoy fantasy creatures will love this barbarian who faces the challenges with his eyes closed and sword and shield raised. When the truth is revealed at the end of the book, everyone will want another ride.

There is plenty of space for young imaginations to fill in the stories. That is probably the best part of this. I don’t expect the book to read particularly quickly with small children, who will want to supply monster noises, sword crashes and heroic details to the tale. Still, the oblivious way the barbarian crosses the pages is quite funny. The high and low paths the barbarian takes make perfect sense at the end of the book with the twist. The illustrations are humorous, colorful and filled with imagination, making the book entirely compelling.

A delight of a wordless read, this is one that children with their own toy swords will love. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

The Sword in the Stove by Frank W. Dormer

The Sword in the Stove by Frank W Dormer

The Sword in the Stove by Frank W. Dormer (InfoSoup)

Two knights can’t find their other companion, Harold, but begin to find odd things in their stove. First it’s a sword, though one knight insists that that sword could have been put there by pirates. Then it’s a shield, which could have been put there by vikings but also might be Harold’s. When they discover Harold’s helmet in the stove as well, they really start to worry. Finally the mystery of Harold and the stove is solved, though not happily for our rather daft knights.

I must admit that I’m a fan of dark picture books. Add in wild slapstick humor that can be read aloud like Monty Python and you have my full attention and appreciation. This book merrily combines that sort of humor with a dark ending that will appeal to many children. The ending too may be dark but is also just as funny as the rest of the book, so it should not cause nightmares or problems for children. The language throughout the book is glorious with “rapscallion” and “howling aardvarks” and “gribnif” dancing across the page. Told entirely in dialogue, this picture book is great to read aloud with no pause in the action or the mystery so even squirmy audiences will appreciate this one.

Dormer’s art plays along with the slapstick feel as the two knights try to solve the mystery. The watercolor illustrations pop on the solid backgrounds, showing the imagination of the knights as well as their own dynamic with one another as one is certain that Harold left items in the stove and the other dreams up wild solutions.

Screamingly funny, this picture book would be ideal to share with a group of elementary school students who will not be worried about the dark twist and will adore the humor. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

The Knights Before Christmas by Joan Holub

The Knights Before Christmas by Joan Holub

The Knights Before Christmas by Joan Holub, illustratead by Scott Magoon (InfoSoup)

Three knights are guarding the castle when suddenly out on the drawbridge there arose a clatter! Outside there is a red-and-white knight with his eight dragons who is trying to get inside the castle. He asks where the chimney is, but castles don’t have a chimney, so Santa has to go to extreme measures to get gifts to these three knights. Meanwhile the knights try to defend the castle but take the instructions a bit too literally. Santa does not give up, deciding to launch the presents at the castle using a flexible pine tree. The knights successfully defend the castle from this barrage of cookies, candy and gifts. Then they merrily bring it all indoors and set up their holiday celebration. Santa has won too!

This is such a clever play on Twas a Night Before Christmas. At first I wondered if it would work, but the author manages to pay homage to the traditional story but also strike out on her own and make a very enjoyable holiday tale. The rhythm and feel of the original story is still here, but this new version does not feel bound by it. Rather it launches the story forward and gives the author room to play. Children will love these three confused knights and their battle against the holiday.

Magoon’s art is digitally done, offering a feeling of plenty of texture and even collage. The three knights are unique from one another and Santa himself is unmistakable in his red and white costume. Each image is filled with humor. Make sure to take time to read the asides too as they add to the merriment.

A modern twist on a traditional poem, this is a welcome new version for fans of knights and castles. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Company.

Review: Good Night, Knight by Betsy Lewin

good night knight

Good Night, Knight by Betsy Lewin

When Horse and Knight are falling asleep, Knight has a dream about golden cookies. So he wakes up Horse and sets off on a quest to find the golden cookies. They search everywhere, in hollow tree trunks and under water and in the bushes, riding from one place to the next at a brisk trot. It isn’t until they return home and Knight has collapsed from exhaustion that Knight realizes that the cookies were right in their castle all along. The two have a golden cookie feast and then go to bed, but it’s not long before Horse has a golden dream of his own!

Written for emerging readers, this picture book is written with a limited vocabulary and words that repeat on the page and from one section of the story to another. The picture book format will invite reluctant readers to give reading a try. Lewin also wisely incorporates plenty of humor and galloping around, giving the reader reasons to turn the page to see what will happen next. It’s a good mix of action and silliness.

Lewin’s illustrations break the text into nice readable chunks appropriate for beginning readers. Plenty of attention is paid to the illustrations, offering humor beyond the text itself. For example, Knight never removes his armor, even to sleep! The art is simple, funny and inviting.

Head out on a quest with your beginning reader and this simple picture book. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Holiday House.

Review: The Dragon & the Knight by Robert Sabuda

dragon and the knight

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.

Review: King Jack and the Dragon by Peter Bently

king jack and the dragon

King Jack and the Dragon by Peter Bently, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

Open this book and you are immersed in a wonderful world of make-believe that you will not want to leave.  There is a timelessness to not only the story here, but the way it is told. 

Jack, Zack and Caspar were making a fort for King Jack out of a large box, a sheet, a blanket, some sticks, broken bricks, some trash bags, and other odds and ends.  Then they spent the entire day fighting dragons and beasts until they returned back to their fort for a celebratory feast.  Unfortunately, after that a giant came and took Sir Zack home.  Then another giant came and took Caspar off to bed.  That left King Jack alone on his throne in his fort.  As darkness fell, he tried to not feel frightened of the noises of wind and the scurrying of animals.  He wasn’t really truly scared until he heard the four footed beast approaching in the dark. 

Beautifully told by Bently, this book reads aloud with zest and style.  The story moves from the building of the fort to the playing of pretend through to the end of the day when reality comes calling for each of the children.  It is a story that speaks to the power of imagination, the ability of children to create worlds that they fall into, and the love of play.  The entire text captures that sense of play, merrily creating tension towards the end of the book without any real fear.

Oxenbury’s illustrations help to strengthen the timelessness of the story.  The sweetness of her illustrations is tempered by the ferocity of the dragons and beasts she depicts.  Yet there is no real danger here, and her illustrations help underline that to the youngest of readers.

Have large boxes and plenty of “swords” ready after you share this book.  It is sure to create some new knights out of any children who listen to it.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.