Guess What I Found in Dragon Wood, written by Timothy Knapman and illustrated by Gwen Millward, appealed to me as soon as I saw the description in the Bloomsbury catalog. The story begins as a young dragon finds "a Benjamin" (a small boy in striped boots), and takes it home to show his surprised parents. He attempts to the feed the Benjamin, though the slimy, yucky worms are not a huge hit with his guest. He takes the Benjamin to school, where the other students are astonished by this strange creature. Eventually, after realizing that his new pet/friend is homesick, the young dragon helps the Benjamin to find his way home.
The delightful thing about this book, of course, is that way that it confounds expectation. A child finding a lost dragon would be interesting. But a dragon finding a lost child is priceless. And touching, even:
"And instead of breathing fire from its nostrils,
it leaked water from its eyes!"
For the first couple of pages, it's not completely clear who found who, until the narrator realizes in astonishment that the Benjamin's "feet weren't striped after all." Kids are sure to laugh at the dragon's-eye view of a human, like the mother not being sure if "it's ever slept in a bed before" (like the child is a stray with questionable manners). Some of the humor is more subtle. The dragon plans to take the Benjamin to school, saying "Today, we're going to learn how to sit on a volcano!". When the Benjamin looks unhappy, he just figures that "Maybe they don't have any schools where it comes from."
Millward's watercolor and pencil illustrations suit the mood of the story perfectly. The dragons are oddly shaped, but manage to be cute and non-threatening. The Benjamin shows up small on every page, compared to the dinosaurs, and often looks sad. But his too-large boots lend him comedy, too. Some of the pages have extra details in the illustrations, like a hieroglyph illustrating volcano sitting, carved onto a rock in the classroom. My favorite illustration is a page with six small panels, each containing a small sketch that highlights some factoid about this unusual Benjamin. I also liked a page that shows the dragon's thoughts about the Benjamin's stories of home. He pictures the Benjamin's family, even the mother, all looking almost exactly like him, but of different sizes.
In short, I think that kids will be unable to resist Guess What I Found in Dragon Wood. Several references to soccer, in addition to the scenes set in the dragon's elementary school, make clear that the audience for this book is the four to eight year old set. This one is well worth checking out.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.