Thursday, March 23, 2017

Arc Review: Henry and the Chalk Dragon by Jennifer Trafton

Henry and the Chalk Dragon by Jennifer Trafton. Illustrated by Benjamin Schipper. 220 p. Rabbit Room Press, April 28, 2017. 9780986381881. (Review from arc courtesy of Blue Slip Media)

Henry is an artist and a bit of an oddity at La Muncha Elementary School. His teachers and classmates don't know what a great artist Henry is because he does not share his art - not even with his very best friend. When he refuses to color a ridiculous bunny template for his class' entry into an "Eat Your Vegetables" art show in the cafeteria, a note is sent home. His parents are supportive of Henry's talents. His mother allows him to draw on his bedroom walls. Indeed, she created a surface upon which Henry can draw, erase and draw again to his heart's content. They encourage him to take part in the school project but Henry absolutely cannot. He gets quite angry, in fact. He's also angry about a few other things. The kids at school don't treat him kindly and he recently got angry with his very best friend, Oscar and there's a ripped up something under his bed to prove it.

As Henry reluctantly gets ready to go to school, the magnificent dragon that he drew on his wall slips off and into his backpack. Henry has no choice but to bring him to school. He dons a suit of armor because that's what knights do and boards the school bus, where he is ridiculed. His ally, the bus driver, who sees Henry for what he is, isn't able to help Henry. 

Once inside school, the dragon slips out of the backpack and magical mayhem ensues. It's all explained away by the clueless adults who cannot "see" the dragon. It's up to Henry to subdue his work of art who seems to be able to change into anything Henry has drawn in his secret sketchpad. He is joined by Oscar and Jade, the new girl at school. Jade is fierce. She is a poet along the lines of traveling minstrels and has been watching Henry very closely. She sees Henry's potential. If only Henry would recognize the ally that she is!

This book is quirky with a capital Q. I will admit that quirky sometimes rubs me the wrong way. When I read the back jacket and saw that the name of the town was Squashbuckle, I was ready to be rubbed. Thankfully, my edges were smoothed on the first page by the wonder of Henry's door and the lovely, evocative writing. There are lots of italics and the occasional odd capitalization for emphasis that lend charm, like "Work of Art." Speaking of art, the cover, with it's slate feel and chalk writing, is perfect; as are the bits of spot art that were available in the arc I read.

I cannot wait for the book to come out so that I can get it into the hands of a variety of readers - my artists, my quiet kids, my kids who want adventure, my kids who want funny (because many of the scenes are laugh-out-loud funny), ...any of my kids really.

Visit the author's site for a terrific curriculum guide

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