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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
A Good Knight’s Rest by Shelley Moore Thomas, illustrated by Jennifer Plecas
The Good Knight has had a very busy day of saving princesses and even rescuing a cat from a tree. He is worn out and weary and decides to go on vacation. When he goes to say goodbye to the dragons, they ask if they can come with him. Being the good knight he is, the Good Knight agrees to bring them along. As they travel, the dragons have them stop again and again to stretch and use the bushes. Each time, the knight does not want to stop but ends up finding a peaceful spot. Just when he starts to relax, the dragons want to leave again. So it goes again and again until finally the dragons realize that the knight really needs some rest and they solve the problem perfectly.
I have long enjoyed the Good Knight series with its gracious and patient Good Knight and the three rambunctious dragons. This book works particularly well with its strong structure, repetition and the ending that will have everyone smiling. Thomas writes with a great touch for pacing and an ear for repetition so that it adds to the humor and the tone of the book.
Plecas’ art is bright, colorful and engaging. Readers will be able to visually see the Good Knight getting more and more tired as they continue their travels. The wide-eyed dragons are never frightening, rather they are child-like and goofy.
A great book to take on your own summer vacation or to share at naptime or bedtime. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Dutton Children’s Books.