Over at the Castle, written by Boni Ashburn and illustrated by Kelly Murphy, is a companion to Hush, Little Dragon, one that fans of the first book will definitely want to get their hands on. Over at the Castle is a rhyming counting book hidden inside a story about Mama Dragon and her little son. Various scenes from around a castle are depicted and used for counting practice. For example:
"Over at the castle, in the dungeon, still alive,
Scheme the old wily prisoner and his pet rats five.
"Plan!" says the prisoner. "We plan!" say the five.
So they plan their great escape, in the dungeon, still alive."
All of the other counting scenes follow this same basic format, right down to the brief bits of conversation, making for a rhythmic read-aloud with enough complexity in subject and vocabulary to hold the attention of early elementary school kids.
The counting passages are periodically interrupted by visits back to Mama Dragon and her small one, as they patiently await ... a surprise at the end of the book. Ashburn uses a nice balance of soothing repetition and suspense. It's a book that, far from becoming tedious, actually improves on multiple readings. (This, of course, is an excellent quality in a picture book.)
I love Kelly Murphy's acrylic, oil, and gel illustrations. She uses a somewhat subdued palette (like on the cover), which feels appropriate to the Medieval castle setting. Every page includes detailed, textured backgrounds (the dungeon is especially well-drawn), as well as whimsical details to reward the careful reader (e.g. a mouse carrying a key down the stairs to the dungeon). The dragons are adorable, with big eyes and striped horns. They often hide in the background of the castle scenes, a series of little jokes for the reader.
So what we have hear is a beautifully illustrated, engaging picture book, one that also happens to work as a counting book for preschoolers. And it's about dragons and castles! I'd say this one is a must-have, for home and school libraries everywhere. A definite keeper!
Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: March 1, 2010
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
© 2010 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).