"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

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


Oz has become a post-apocalyptic space adventure. Fans of these kinds of stories will want to pick up The Search for Wondla for their younger reader—and join in on the fun.

The Search for Wondla

written and illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi

Simon & Schuster, 2010.

466 pages, hardcover.

Age 12, Eva Nine thinks she is ready to venture out of the Sanctuary into the unexplored world above. She tires of the holographic simulations and the lessons her Muthr (Muti-Utility Task Help Robot zero-six) insists she review over and over first. But when an alien hunter from the outside invades the Sanctuary, she is forced to the surface into the beautiful and perilous above ground—and finds she is not ready; worse, she is unprepared.

In the spirit of The Wizard of Oz and Dorothy, Eva Nine emerges from her house to discover a strange and enchanting world. Armed with incredible futuristic technology, Eva Nine’s adventure has begun. Where she might be lost in the wonder and peril of the mobile/sentient landscape, she finds companions to help her along her way as she searches for her own Wizard in WondLa.

Believed to be the only human on the planet, Eva Nine is certain that WondLa has the answers to Who she was and Where, and what happened to the others of her kind. Now to just find what it is she is searching for.

Part Fantasy and part Sci Fi, Tony DiTerlizzi writes a story both magical and logical in explanation. DiTerlizzi world-builds around the protagonist and her fascinating companions as the story progresses, balancing travel-narrative with heart-thumping action sequences. He begins on a high-adrenalined note, a brilliant beginning to invest the reader and show off his writerly skills. The writing is clean, fluid, and the story unfolds with pieces slowly sliding into place while yet maintaining enough of a mystery for the series to sustain itself. (Yes, The Search for Wondla is book one.) The creatures and the gadgetry are well-presented, not underestimating the clever brains of middle-school readers. Indeed, the vocabulary in The Search for Wondla is not a 3rd grader’s level (bless him). [yes, I know this aspect will alienate several adults.] If you love Kate DiCamillo for her diction, you will love DiTerlizzi.

The illustrations alone are worth picking up The Search for Wondla. DiTerlizzi is a fantastic illustrator. I first met with his work in The Spiderwick Chronicles and his work in Wondla is marvelously familiar. Each chapter begins with a two page illustrations while single pages and images are littered throughout. This should make the page length less daunting, but not shorter. I was drawn to stare at the pictures. They spoke volumes, true, but they were also that enchanting.

Like all Sci Fi/Fantasy, The Search for Wondla has the challenge of holding the active reader interested while providing the necessary details for this new and wondrous place. Tony DiTerlizzi uses enough of the familiar to offset the strange languages, terms, and gadget capability. His imagination creates wonder without overwhelming or boring the the reader. Just the same, I think for some readers, patience or intense interest is required for The Search for Wondla; especially those unused to Sci Fi or Fantasy. Fortunately for these readers, DiTerlizzi is gracious with his action sequences–riveting would be an apt description.

The Search for Wondla would be a fun read for those TAG Readers whose curriculum includes Eco-Criticism (Natalya’s was fairly humdrum). Conversations about the interconnectedness of nature and the consequences of the destructive (domineering) spirits are woven into the adventure. It isn’t message-y, but appropriate to Eva Nine’s desire to not be alone, and to not be at constant odds with her environment and its inhabitants.

Loss and loneliness and survival infuse the text, important ingredients in a journey quest and compelling adventure. The Search for Wondla will entertain readers of all ages, boy and girl alike.


“Inspired by stories by the likes of the Brothers Grimm, James M. Barrie, and L. Frank Baum, The Search for Wondla is a new fairy tale for the twenty-first century.” ~publisher’s comments

The Search for Wondla would desire the same timeless quality of Grimm, Peter Pan, and Wizard of Oz (what wouldn’t). It doesn’t immediately strike me as probable*, but I would like to see it so. I would like to see something so evidently sci-fi in take find itself resting in said company—as an equal, rather than a remnant. When the next book comes out, I will read the first through (by myself instead of the partitioned read-aloud) and revisit the thought of comparisons.

As for the assertion of “The Search for Wondla is a new fairy tale for the twenty-first century,” I would like to hear another reader’s opinion on this first. Fairy Tale didn’t immediately spring to mind, then, I don’t think about Oz or Wonderland in that way either. I missed Grimm somewhere along the way. While I am visiting the descriptor for the Once Upon a Time Challenge, maybe something will come to mind.


Breathtaking two-color illustrations throughout reveal another dimension of Tony DiTerlizzi’s vision, and, for those readers with a webcam, the book also features Augmented Reality in several places, revealing additional information about Eva Nine’s world. ~The Search for Wondla website

The Search for Wondla has to have one of the best book sites. The FANTASTIC website. The “Wondla-Vision” is marvelous fun. Get the book and check it out on their site!


I believe Paramount has shown interest if not more in The Search for Wondla, but as I read this novel, all I could think was what Miyazaki & Studio Ghibli could do with this! I think it right up his/their alley.

*That Tony DiTerlizzi will be known for ages to come is very probable, and thus, Wondla as his work…