I do not like didactic literature, so when I say that today’s two chapter books hold a relevant message of tolerance, an urging of restraint from hating others out of fear, you can rest assured that it’s not a screamy message nor a manipulative message; not a spelled-out, tiresome message. It’s simply the flavor that a wise reader can extract from a well-told story, and surely it’s a sweetness that we need a lot more of today.
Snake and Lizard, by Joy Cowley, illustrated by Gavin Bishop first published in New Zealand, 2007; first American edition 2008 by Kane Miller
Snake and Lizard are unlikely to be friends. Their very first encounter is an argument. A silly, boneheaded kind of argument over who is blocking whom on a sunny path in their desert home. An argument that descends quickly into uncouth remarks about personal appearances and big mouths.
When Snake finally chooses to give way to Lizard, though, and the anger drains out of Lizard like the air from a full-to-the-breaking-point balloon, and they agree to share the sun-pool, and they admit where each other were in the right…well, as Rick and Captain Renault would say, it looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Not a smooth-as-silk friendship. No, this is still a friendship between two prickly characters who get into tiffs regularly and have to work things out. Still, the point is that they do work things out, and we come to see the endearing sides of both of them. They do too, apparently, for they stick together through quite a variety of catastrophes and ticklish situations.
I thoroughly enjoyed the collection of short, amusing episodes in this book. At 85 pages long, it’s a great early chapter book for a stout reader or a snappy read-aloud in an unusual setting for ages 5 or 6 and up.
The whole book is really beautiful. Gavin Bishop’s watercolor illustrations are handsome and set a wonderful desert tone. Nothing sweetsy and cutesy about them. And just look at the end papers:
So gorgeous. Creamy paper. Great cover art. It’s a splendid little book from Kane Miller who import many, many titles from around the world for us — something I greatly appreciate!
Kenny & the Dragon, written and illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi published in 2008 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
In a clever riff on Kenneth Grahame’s classic dragon story, The Reluctant Dragon, master storyteller DiTerlizzi brings us this engaging, upbeat story of Kenny the Rabbit and his buddy Grahame, a most misunderstood dragon who hangs out on Shepard’s Hill. So just for starters, the allusions to that great piece of literature are a delight and may propel you to go back and read the original.
The town of Roundbrook is in an uproar over the recent sightings of a dragon — a dragon! — “one of them flying things that eats pretty maidens and burns castles to the ground.” Kenny’s dad and the rest of the townspeople are determined to get rid of that scourge before he “burns everything right to the ground.” The plan: hire the old, retired, dragon-slayer: George.
But Kenny is a curious fellow and hankers to see this creature before it’s destroyed. And of course, when he does, he discovers that Grahame is a genuine bibliophile, an gourmand, a harmless and gentle friend. Kenny’s task is to subdue the agitated mob of townspeople before they skewer the dragon out of fearful ignorance.
If this plot sounds faintly like something we should be reading just now in the U.S. …well.
Di Terlizzi’s sketchy pencil drawings give an air of warmth, and friendly good humor that match the tone of his narrative. It’s 150 pages, and perfect for reading aloud. Ages 5 and up.