Henry and the Chalk Dragon
written by Jennifer Trafton; illustrated by Benjamin Schipper
2017 (Rabbit Room Press)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher
Henry leaped to his feet. "I'm sorry, Principal Bunk, but I have to go. I have to save the school."
"Don't let your imagination run wild." On this day, Henry Penwhistle's imagination goes beyond that old maxim. Actually, it probably leaves the galaxy. Unfortunately for him, no one seems to understand. He doesn't fit in at school. He's picked on and seen as weird. Nobody, except for his best friend Oscar, seems to get him. And even his friendship with Oscar carries an unspoken dread. Unmotivated to go to school and please the teacher by drawing bunnies for the art show, Henry instead uses the back of his bedroom door as a canvas and creates a jungle green dragon that is "fierce and fearsome and full of fire." Okay, so what's the problem? Well, if you wake up and the door is absent a dragon, that's a problem. If the dragon is heading toward your school, that's a bigger problem. Henry races to school to track down the runaway chalk dragon and during this battle deal with other issues (communicating with adults, lack of confidence) that are monsters in their own right.
You start reading some books and you know they are going to be a read aloud hit in the classroom. Henry and the Chalk Dragon has a terrific energy to it. It moves along at a brisk pace with plenty of action to keep the reader riveted. Running parallel to the action is a great heart. We sympathize with Henry who is a reluctant hero who just wants to do his own thing and not conform to the pressures of a tedious testing school world. Young readers really connect to those characters because there is a little bit of each of them in Henry.
As a teacher, I think Henry is an excellent choice for paying attention to how characters change during the course of a book. One idea would be to create a point to point graph and chart Henry's emotions as you go through the chapters. This is also a good companion for writing poetry as one of the characters breaks out in song with heroic verses lauding Henry's actions. Similes and metaphors could also be the subjects of mini-lessons connected to this book. Other fun ideas can be found in the curriculum guide on author Jennifer Trafton's website.
Henry and the Chalk Dragon is a kid-sized chapter book saga that will enthrall those brave enough to read it.