Friday, July 01, 2011

Book Review: Kenny and the Dragon, by Tony DiTerlizzi (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2008)

Recommended for ages 9-12

This adorable book teaches children the power of not judging someone (or something) on gossip, and illustrates the potentially destructive power that gossip can have.

Kenny is a young, bookish rabbit. His parents are farmers, but he's always got his nose in a book. His only real friend at the book's beginning is the old badger, George, who runs the bookshop in the nearby village. Kenny visits George to play chess and read in the bookshop, and George often lets Kenny borrow books to take home and read.

One day, Kenny's father comes home and tells him that there is a dragon in his meadow. Kenny runs to his bookshelf and grabs his bestiary, on loan from George, and learns that dragons are vicious, fire-breathing, maiden-devouring beasts. Arming him with with armor, made up of pots and pans from his mother's kitchen, he sets out to take a look at the dragon - who introduces himself as Grahame ("like the cracker, but with an e on the end") and quickly dispels all myths set forth in the bestiary - in fact, he asks Kenny if he can borrow it, because he loves reading good fiction. Grahame enjoys poetry, music, and good food. He spent years trapped in the earth after falling through a fault line, but he never saw the point in chasing maidens and killing knights - his fellow dragons died out because of their taste for terror, and he just wants to enjoy life.

Kenny introduces Grahame to his mother and father, who quickly befriend the dragon as well, having picnic dinners and cooking delicious meals for him. Kenny and Grahame become fast friends, but it's all put at risk when other villagers hear that there's a dragon in the land and panic. Word gets to the king, who calls his retired dragonslayer into service - Kenny's friend, George Badger. Kenny's two best friends may have to do combat because no one bothers to learn the truth about dragons - what can Kenny do to save the day?

Tony DiTerlizzi is one half of the duo behind The Spiderwick Chronicles, so the man knows how to write for children. Kenny and the Dragon, based on the 1898 story The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame, introduces readers to a new group of memorable characters as he peppers tributes to the original story throughout the book. Aside from the obvious tribute to Kenneth Grahame, he names George the bookstore owner/dragonslayer after St. George, who features in the Grahame story; other characters mentioned in the original find their place in DiTerlizzi's world as well.

Placing the story in a fantastic, anthropomorphic world is a wonderful way of not only bringing this story to a new audience, he expands on the original tale as a way of getting big ideas across to little people - the town mob, pitchforks and all, is riled up by the mere presence of a dragon, but no one bothers to try and get to know him - all they have is rumor to go on, and that's good enough for them.

DiTerlizzi also illustrates Kenny and the Dragon in the same line sketch format as Spiderwick, bringing Grahame, Kenny, and the rest of their world to life. The sketches brought to mind my old fairy tale books, with line drawn and watercolored princesses and princes.

DiTerlizzi's website, Never Abandon Imagination, provides more information about his books and includes links to his artwork, blog and social media connections (YouTube, Wikipedia, Facebook).

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