Dear Dragon, written by Josh Funk, illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo published in 2016 by Viking
It’s time for a poetry-writing unit in young George Slair’s classroom. Thanks to George’s oh-so-clever teacher, though, there’s nothing wearisome about that. She’s found pen pals for each of her charges. Their letters to one another will be written in rhyme. Awesome sauce.
George has been assigned a pen pal named Blaise. And presto-pronto, these two begin an enthusiastic correspondence telling about their adventures and outings, likes and dislikes, hobbies and pets and families. Before long they’re hitting it off like old friends! No wonder they can hardly wait to meet one another at the pen pal picnic.
But what on earth?! When these two kids meet up, they discover something crazy: Blaise is a dragon! George is a human boy! They never imagined it this way. Can dragons and humans be pals?!?! But of course.
This is a smart book on so many levels, sneaking in all sorts of good things under the radar. There’s the whole incentive to write letters, maybe even to a pen pal! The delights of poetry. A cunning how-to lesson on conversing with a new friend.
Then, courtesy of Rodolfo Montalvo’s brilliant illustrations, there’s a marvelous display of alternate perspectives, the way our life experience leads us to interpret another’s words. Absolutely fantastic.
And, wrapped in and under and around the whole story is the lovely idea that such very different people can be so very much alike. That these folks who seem so other-ish, can be our friends.
It’s all packed in without losing a morsel of friendly warmth or being encumbered by an atom of moralizing. Enjoy this with kids ages 4 and up, taking your time over the illustrations. And while you’re at it — just give the names of the two main characters a ponder. Some excellent punning and allusion going on there!