Book review: Knight Owls, by Eric Seltzer, illustrated by Tom Disbury

Seltzer, Eric. Knight Owls. Illustrated by Tom Disbury. (Ready to Read series). Simon Spotlight, 2019. $17.99. ISBN 97821534448810. Unpaged. Ages 4-6. P6 Q7

Knight Owls are here to save the day. They are kind and brave. When Phil the dragon makes a mess of the mill, they encourage him to be helpful.  A pre-level one reader with large text and illustrations that match the text. The illustrations show Phil the dragon with a sad look on its face when it made a mess of the mill, pondering when the Knight owl suggest it do something helpful and happy tears when the owls sing it a happy song.  I chuckled out loud near the end of the book.

Verdict: This is an adorable rhyming book that emphasizes friendship. A fun and sweet story for children to learn to read on their own.

September 2019 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Silver Batal and the Water Dragon Races, by K.D. Halbrook

Halbrook, K. D. Silver Batal and the Water Dragon Races. Henry Holt and Company, 2019. 323 pgs. $16.99. ISBN: 978-1-250-18107-7. Gr. 5+. P8 Q7

Silver Batal dreams of being a water dragon racer, which is hard as she lives in a part of the country which is covered by sand. Silver’s parents want her to follow in her father’s footsteps–he designs jewelry, something Silver does not want to do. When the king comes to her village the country’s greatest dragon racer is coming too.  She is Silver’s idol and Silver can’t wait to meet her. Silver is shocked to find out how rude she is. An old woman helps Silver to see her dreams when Silver discovers that she is hiding a water dragon, which also has a baby. All they have to do is make their way through the underground tunnels getting as close to the capital as possible without being discovered.

Verdict: Silver is a strong, determined young woman who is not afraid to go after what she wants, even though some of her choices get her into trouble. I love strong female characters who inspire young girls. I look forward to reading the other books in this series.

September 2019 review by Carol Bernardi.

Book review: Fergal and the Bad Temper, by Robert Starling

Starling, Robert. Fergal and the Bad Temper. IMPRINT/Macmillan, 2019. Unp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-250-19862-4. Ages 4-7. P8Q8

Imagine the fire when a dragon can’t control his temper. That’s what happens with Fergal every time someone tells him to do something: he gets angry—and breathes fire. He burns his dinner, the soccer goal, cakes, and games—everything he encounters if he can’t “keep his cool.” Distraught because he doesn’t have any friends, he gets some advice from his mother and from animal acquaintances about how to feel less “fiery.”

Verdict: The colorful acrylic, gouache, and digital illustrations appear block like, and the solution is almost too easy. Yet the lesson is a good one for young readers who think that their life is “not fair.”

June 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Gondra’s Treasures, by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt

Park, Linda Sue. Gondra’s Treasures. Illus. By Jennifer Black Reinhardt. Clarion. 2019. $17.99. unp. ISBN 978-0-544-54669-1. Ages 4-8. P9Q9

Illustrations of a young dragon show Gondra as she explains the differences between her father’s mist-breathing dragon heritage in the East and her mother’s fire-breathing traditions in the West. Her parents also talk about their families’ treasure—a cave full of precious objects for her mother and one pearl for her father. Even the parents’ attitudes toward humans differed: the family of Gondra’s mother fought for their treasure, and her father’s family used the pearl to control weather to help humans. In the end, however, the parents agree that Gondra is their treasure. A two-page “Author’s Note” explains different dragon myths in China and Europe.

Verdict: The blend of changing traditions from two backgrounds allow children to understand that they are a mix of their parents’ characteristics and can become the best of both. The whimsy of both narration and illustrations, for example Gondra’s jammies and her stack of books about dragons, will delight readers, and the playful verbal exchanges between Gondra’s parents demonstrate the love in her family.

April 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Language of Spells, by Garret Weyr, illustrated by Katie Harnett

Weyr, Garret. The Language of Spells. Illustrated by Katie Harnett. Chronicle Books, 2018. 299 pages. $16.99. ISBN 9781452159584. Ages 11-14. P7 Q9

A dragon who spent much of his life transformed into a teapot and a sad, solitary girl become friends and take on the task of finding the missing dragons of Vienna.

Though born in 1803, the dragon Grisha spent most of his life frozen into a teapot by an evil sorcerer, able to hear and see, but unable to move or speak.  Released from the spell after what Grisha has only heard called the great war, he flies to Vienna to join the other dragons of Europe.  Forty years later, Maggie who lives with her poet father in a Viennese hotel, becomes friends with Grisha and the two together work through Grisha’s clouded memories and the menace of the Department of Extinct Exotics to find the missing dragons and face the menace of the sorcerer who captured Grisha.

Verdict: I cannot recommend this title too much.  Garret Weyr’s gorgeous flowing language carries this fantasy with its twinned themes–that magic carries a heavy price and that humans become incapable of seeing that which they do not believe—to a satisfying ending. Weyr excels in weaving emotions into the fabric of the story and Maggie’s conflict about her mother’s death is an important thread.

Though Grisha’s life encompasses the tumultuous 19th and 20th centuries of European history, his teapot imprisonment  prevents  him knowing more than hints of the horrors of the Holocaust, though careful readers will catch the references in Yakov’s letters to his family and in the evacuation of family and children to the English countryside. Likewise, the menace of the Department of Extinct Exotics and the sorcerer echo the threats of the Cold War and totalitarian governments of post-war Europe.

I did not find that Katie Harnett’s illustrations added to my enjoyment of the story.  Her style of illustration, while pleasant, did not match the elegance of Weyr’s prose.

Other books by the author (published under the name Garret Freymann-Weyr) include My Heartbeat (a 2003 Printz honor book), Stay with Me, After the Moment, When I Was Older, and French Ducks in Venice.

I find this one of the best books I’ve read recently.  I recommend it for all middle grade, high school, and public, libraries.  I can only hope that it becomes available as an audiobook.

Book review: The Yin-Yang Sisters and the Dragon Frightful, by Nancy Tupper Ling, illustrated by Andrea Offermann

Ling, Nancy Tupper. The Yin-Yang Sisters and the Dragon Frightful. Illustrated by Andrea Offermann. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018. Unpaged. $17.99. ISBN 9780399171154. Ages 4-7. P7Q6

Twin sisters are born in a small village beset by a fearsome dragon.  An auntie predicts that the two will be like yin and yang, stronger together.  Wei, the fiercer, louder twin promises to attack the dragon and flings herself heedlessly into the quest, while her quieter twin, Mei, takes a thoughtful approach, often saving her sister from certain doom.  The lively illustrations and folkloric qualities make a pleasant story, but the story definitely favors the introspective twin over the outgoing one, and the author and illustrator missed the opportunity to include elements of Chinese culture.  In some ways this reminds me of the Disney Mulan, a pleasant story, but lacking depth.

Verdict: Recommended as an additional purchase for public libraries.  If used at story times, please consider including other, more culturally aware stories as well.

November 2018 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: Sail Away Dragon, by Barbara Joosse, illustrated by Randy Cecil

Joosse, Barbara. Sail Away Dragon. illus. Randy Cecil. Candlewick Press, 2017. unp. $15.99. ISBN: 978-0-7636-7313-0. Gr. K+. P9 Q8

This is the third book that the author Joose has written about the adventures of girl and the dragon. I have not read the other books but this one I loved. Girl and dragon both have the same dream which starts a new adventure for them. Dragon becomes a boat and he the girl sail away to “Far-Est Far Away.” On the journey they meet many different friends who join them on their journey.  The text itself is lyrical and funny as girl and dragon sail away for a year and day and has a whimsical tone as well. The illustrations are done in oils with a foggy misty feel, almost as if it this were a dream.

Verdict: This is an adventure that will draw the reader in. I have reread it many times.

July 2018 review by Carol Bernardi.