Picture Book Snob
A small act of kindness mends more than wings
Albert the Dragon by Gareth Chapman and Andrea Rossi
This gorgeous picture book demonstrates how powerful kindness can be and celebrates the transformative qualities of friendship. The story also stresses the importance of accepting one’s flaws (real or imagined) and not hiding away from the world on account of them.
After a storm damages his wings, Albert the Dragon becomes so ashamed of them that he avoids company, spending all his time alone in a cave. When he meets a little girl called Holly, her small act of kindness restores Albert's faith in himself and his confidence returns. No longer isolated, he makes lots of new friends and has many visitors, but always reserves a special place at his table for Holly.
With lyrical, rhyming text, striking illustrations, and just the smallest suggestion of magic, this has a quaint and charming "storybook" quality. It reminds me of the more traditional books from my childhood, yet is remarkably fresh and original. Albert is an endearing character, and in his tweed coat and old woollen scarf, feels very real.
The illustrations are incredibly detailed and enrich Albert's world and enhance the reader's experience of it. My children and I enjoy looking at his belongings, the items on his kitchen table, and the baby pictures of him hatching and with his parents. There are lots of subtle jokes communicated through the images. We see fire extinguishers all over Albert's cave and he reads a copy of How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell.
There's a number of amusing little mice living with Albert. Although the dragon appears to be oblivious of them, the reader can watch them getting up to all kinds of mischief. They peer out of mouseholes, make off with food, emerge from under Albert's coat, and do their morning stretches as Albert awakes. One even parachutes through the endpapers, clutching a lump of cheese.
All of the illustrations are hand-painted with visible brush strokes and layers of paint, giving them an interesting texture and a dynamic energy. Remarkably colourful, they sometimes resemble a mosaic or stained-glass window. The story is not explicitly set in Ireland but the rugged landscape and green fields stretching to the sea evoke the west of this country, particularly Connemara.
Author Gareth Chapman is originally from New Zealand but has been living in Galway's Slieve Aughty mountains for just over ten years. There he has "a wee family, a wee house, a wee block of land, a couple of dogs, a rabbit, a cat and a horse." Andrea Rossi is a Brazilian artist and graphic designer also living in Galway. Andrea has a studio in Spiddal Craft Village and her art has been featured on stationery and home décor products.
I was astonished when I discovered Albert the Dragon was self-published as it's produced to an exceptionally high standard. It's lovely to look at and lovely to hold, with bright, sturdy pages and a substantial spine (featuring a tiny dragon-print at its base). This engaging story would make an attractive gift; my own three and five-year-old have enjoyed it tremendously.
Albert the Dragon is Gareth and Andrea's first collaboration but I hope there will be many more to come. Gareth's website hints at another work in progress and I'm very much looking forward to seeing what he and Andrea do next. Published as a paperback and an ebook, Albert the Dragon is currently available from Charlie Byrne's in Galway, Amazon and Gareth's own website.