"review" · fiction · Illustrator · juvenile lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · Tales

{book} kenny and the dragon

Carl V. at Stainless Steel Droppings wrote an excellent review on Kenny and the Dragon so I had to see it for myself. That I, too, am a fan of DiTerlizzi’s illustrations is another contributing factor. To confess all: I have come to like DiTerrlizzi’s textual storytelling as well—The Search for Wondla clinched that for me. I began to read Kenny and the Dragon expecting great things, and I was right to do so.

Kenny and the Dragon was a pleasure to read. It was a small hard back, 152 pages w/ illustrations, so no excuses. You don’t even have to have read Kenneth Grahame’s Reluctant Dragon, but you may want to: it is one of those books where the author is affectionate in the treatment of his inspiration and you want to share the same affection for it as well.

What do you do when your new best buddy has been designated a scourge by the community and marked for imminent extermination? Just ask Kenny Rabbit. When the simple folks in the sleepy little village of Roundbrook catch wind that there’s a dragon running loose in the countryside, they get the wrong idea and the stage is set for a fight to the death. So it’s up to Kenny to give his neighbors front-row seats to one of the best-known battles in history—the legendary showdown between St. George and the dragon—without losing a friend in the fray. ~jacket copy.

Kenny and the Dragon sounds like a fairly typical bullying story. Kenny’s a bit of a strange young rabbit, shy, bookish, has one real friend who is an adult. But he isn’t the one to be bullied in the story—or to be imminently exterminated. His new friend Grahame is, and he really does want to keep his friend safe. –spoilers—The stellar complication in the story is how his other and longtime best friend is the one ordered by the king to slay the new friend. And it isn’t as if the dragon and the old friend wouldn’t get along rather wonderfully.—end–

So you know those stories where the bully is obvious and the choice is made easy as to who the villain is and what should be done? Not so here. Although a villain does come in late, allowing the conclusion that cathartic experience of overcoming a tangible evil—you know, like ignorance/bigotry.

[Kenny] looked down at his bookshelf and gazed at the books […] In some of them, there were wizards and witches who could give you enchanted weapons or supernatural powers that allowed you to overcome your foes and save the day. Kenny’s life didn’t have these villains intent on doing nothing but bad things—it was more complicated than that. (98)

Carl mentions both the literary references and the occasional big words. He also suggests that a pairing of DiTerlizzi and Kate DiCamillo could mean something stellar. I agree. DiCamillo does come to mind when reading Kenny because the two do not flinch away from big and richer words with young audiences and they both can create a timeless feel in their tales that can still feel wholly original.

Bibliophiles will love reading this one with their young-readers or non- even beyond the literary references, because Kenny is encouraged to read. His family lives on a farm and it is apparent his parents are hard-working. He is an only son (at home anyway) and instead of being harangued for being a reader and oft distracted, it appears understood that it is okay that he is. The story (and family) make time for work and pleasure, responsibilities and exceptions.

sketch from DiTerlizzi, found in a “7 Imp…” interview (see below)

The parents are a favorite part of the read. Mom is very much a mom, she is protective and stable and warm. The dad is an awesome character for other reasons; although there is little doubt ever that he is a good dad. It is just that Kenny seems very different from his dad who’s language is rougher and interests are tied to the land rather than the clouds. You can see why Kenny gravitates toward the bookshop owner in town for conversation, chess, and reading material. But Mr. Rabbit is not to be replaced. I love the moment when Kenny really sees his father—really notices him and his value.

Kenny looked up at his dad as they walked back home. In the warm lantern light, he seemed wise now, like Arthur’s Merlin. And Kenny realized that his father’s wisdom was gained from real experiences and not something he had read about in a book. (114)

[…”read about in a book.”—there is a great discussion about: reading about adventures and having one; about what can be learned from books, and what is better learned from “real experiences;” what can be played out (like theater) and what inspires play (theater); what if the information in the books is ignorant or wrong? Those sorts of conversations. A lovely tension, and a lovely complication for bibliophiles.]

The parents are wonderful in the course of the story because Kenny isn’t an anomaly. His parents are loving and compassionate people. They are hospitable, and they are fierce. And so is he. The parents stand behind or in front of Kenny in encouragement and support of his efforts without coming across as inept or without parent/adult-status.

A hero who is championed by their still-living parents in a juvenile (or any) adventure where a goal is in becoming one’s own heroic self is rare. Kenny and the Dragon was like basking in the sun after a long dark winter.

So, Kenny is a good story in which to talk about friendship and bullies and bigotry, and definitely ageism—if that is a problem for you or yours.  Of course, Kenny isn’t a message-y book. It offers good values and interesting complications which can only encourage creative solutions and a collaborative atmosphere. It offers what most kids and adults really want: a good story. It has good strong characters whose interactions can be heart-warming, tense, or comedic—and there is even a hint of romance for Kenny—a hint. There is action and talk of food (pie, anyone?). DiTerlizzi builds suspense and takes a few turns. Really, you wonder why you put up with the tomes that we do, considering what can be accomplished in shorter.

The length coupled with the pacing and the images make this an accessible read for the younger readers. The recommendation reads 8-12 and I would lower this for avid readers and story-time.



Kenny and the Dragon by Tony DiTerlizzi

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2008

Hardcover, 152 pages.

check out DiTerlizzi’s site, here.

there is an audio-file of Alan Cummings reading Chapter 1, also a teacher’s guide, or you can gaze at the lovely images.

Another  fun “7 Impossible Things…” interview: w/ Tony and Angela DiTerlizzi

{all images are Tony DiTerlizzi/Simon & Schuster}

–part of the Once Upon a Time Challenge

2 thoughts on “{book} kenny and the dragon

  1. I would so love to listen to an audio version of Alan Cumming reading this book while following along to look at the pix. That would be delightful.

    Very happy to see that you had a positive experience with this one. It is such a sweet little book. I actually recommended it (after seeing your link pop up on Twitter) and a Kate DiCamillo book to someone today.

    It is so refreshing to have a hero’s journey story where both of the hero’s parents are alive and are actually upright, good hearty characters in and of themselves. That is a really special moment when Kenny notices that trait in his father. I’m glad you touched on that in your review. Reading this makes me want to read this all over again. I am kicking myself that I didn’t pick this up in hardback when it first came out. It is one I would like to add to my collection one day. I should buy it to read to my niece (and future grandchildren). There, how ’bout that for an excuse?!?!

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