Not Your Typical Dragon by Dan Bar-el. Illustrated by Tim Bowers.
Crispin Blaze is a young dragon looking forward to his seventh birthday, when dragons start to breathe fire. But when he tries to light the candles on his birthday cake, whipped cream comes out instead of fire. Only his little sister, Ashley, is happy about this (I love their names). His horrified father rushes him to the doctor the next day, and Crispin joins the fire-breathing training at school after that – but he breathes Band-Aids at the doctor’s office and marshmallows on the training field. Convinced he’s a disappointment to his family, he runs away, only to be found by a young knight whose father won’t let him come home until he’s slain a fire-breathing dragon. Sir George does his best to help Crispin, using his dragon manual, but nothing works. In the end, Crispin goes home and saves the day with his unconventional object-breathing. It’s illustrated in a goofy style that looks like a hybrid of computer graphics and watercolor, and the setting, too, is a mix of medieval and modern, as the Blazes live in a regular suburban house while Sir George wears plate armor. My three-year-old daughter loved this, and I read this to all of the second and third graders at my son’s school, who also loved it. The adults all loved the message of acceptance for people who don’t fit the standard mold, especially boys who aren’t aggressive or athletic.
A Gold Star for Zog by Julia Donaldson. Illustrated by Axel Scheffler
Another tale of an unconventional dragon: Zog is a dragon who always tries his best at dragon school, but each year’s final assignment finds him pushing himself too hard. He flies into a tree, lights his own wing on fire, and so on. Each time he’s rescued by the same girl who patches him up and sends him on his way, until the year when he’s assigned to kidnap a princess. Then she reveals that she is a princess, hates palace life, and would much rather be a doctor to the dragons. The scansion on the rhymes faltered painfully, and my historical fashion sense was horribly violated by Pearl dressing in something like late 19th-century to early 20th-century schoolgirl clothes while the other people were dressed in late medieval to Renaissance style. Still, it has a good message with both girl and dragon breaking free of expectations to follow their dreams, and my daughter loved it.
Dangerously Ever After by Dashka Slater. Illustrated by Valeria Docampo.
Princess Amanita loves everything dangerous, especially her garden full of dangerous and deadly plants. When a prince from a neighboring kingdom bikes over to visit, she’s not sure what to do with him. As the story unwinds, Princess Amanita finds herself biking through a dark and dangerous forest with a bouquet of nose flowers, realizing that danger isn’t quite so fun when she’s not controlling it, as well as learning about friendship. I got this (after reading many reviews from fellow book bloggers), mostly for my daughter who’s just starting to get excited about princesses. It turned out to be borderline too long for her. But my eight-year-old son and his classmates thought it was hilarious. My son especially appreciated Docampo’s fashion choices: Princess Amanita’s clothes are as full and frilly as you could want a princess’s dresses to be, but always blue and frequently with exposed metal hoops or studs, and her hair done up to look like a scorpion’s tail. The illustrations are lush and beautiful, and Princess Amanita is the rare princess who’s equally fun for girls and boys.
Alice the Fairy by David Shannon. How can you go wrong with David Shannon? I had so much fun introducing my three-year-old to Alice, as I introduced her brother at a similar age. Alice describes her doings as a “temporary fairy” – turning her father’s chocolate chip cookies into hers, or making herself invisible. The words describe the magic while the pictures show the reality – her wands lets her reach the light switch. There’s no plot, and Alice makes the kinds of poor choices you’d expect a four-year-old to make, but somehow the book is still utter delight. We found the book-with-CD kit at the library, and my daughter listened until she had the whole thing memorized.