King Jack and the Dragon, by Peter Bently and Helen Oxenbury, is a celebration of the power of imagination. Jack, Zack, and baby Caspar build a castle out of "A big cardboard box, an old sheet and some sticks, a couple of trash bags, (and) a few broken bricks." The construction takes place in black and white vignettes. Then, once the castle is built, Jack becomes King Jack, and the adventures that follow are rendered in glorious color. The boys fight dragons and beasts, "and return(ed) to their stronghold for fabulous feasts." Alas, however, his companions are borne away by giants, and King Jack is left to face a scary intruder all by himself. He ends up kind of wishing that his imagination was not quite so vivid after all.
Bently's text is this story is appropriately dramatic in tone, making it nice for read-aloud. He uses rhyme, but mixes up line lengths, and moves couplets across multiple pages, all of which keeps the text from being sing-songy. Like this:
"A mouse scampered over the roof
"It's nothing!" thought Jack.
"There's no reason to worry."
"BRRUP!" croaked a frog.
"It's nothing!" thought Jack
as he switched on his light in the deepening black.
Helen Oxenbury's illustrations add warmth and humor, while also always making it clear (even where the text leaves room for doubt) that Jack and his friends are always safe. Pacifier-sucking Caspar brings to mind the babies in Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes (written by Mem Fox and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury), as well as Oxenbury's board books (Clap Hands, etc.). This provides a nice bridge for preschoolers moving up from baby books to more traditional picture books. Jack and Zack are older and livelier, but King Jack (with his crown) is still small enough to ride home on his father's back.
The mix of black and white and color illustrations lends extra visual interest, as does Oxenbury's use of cross-hatching to indicate darkness. There's a hint of Where the WIld Things Are here, but with the delightful addition of dragons. There's an old-fashioned feel to King Jack and the Dragon, with three boys playing all day on their own, and no visible supervision, building a fort out of cast-off objects, until the parents reappear at nightfall.
King Jack and the Dragon is an entertaining celebration of childhood, perfect for preschoolers, especially boys. The visual link to Oxenbury's other titles makes it an especially nice addition to one's family library. Recommended!
Publisher: Dial (@ThePenguinPeeps)
Publication Date: August 18, 2011
Source of Book: Library copy
Nominated for 2011 Cybils in Fiction Picture Books by: Cara
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