The Dos and Don'ts of Dragon Hunting
Here Be Dragons by Susannah Lloyd and Paddy Donnelly, Frances Lincoln
What's it about?
I'll try not to give too much away as I'd prefer not to spoil this for anyone... A knight whose observation skills leave a lot to be desired, sets out in search of dragons. What he lacks in intelligence, he more than compensates for in arrogance. The silly and patronising knight is entirely oblivious to what is actually happening as he plods through the story. Meanwhile his horse, the reader, a daring damsel and almost every other creature we meet (including mythical beasts unseen by the knight) knows exactly what's going on.
What can we learn?
A map is no substitute for common sense!
What makes this stand out? Here Be Dragons is a remarkably clever, inventive and exciting story with exceptional illustrations. It's a wonderful example of the power of picture books. The text and the images generate completely different narratives. We have the dual perspective of the knight's interpretation of the events and the "real" story told by the illustrations. The contrast between them creates a highly entertaining reading experience, with many hilarious, pantomime-like elements, and lots of suspense.
About those illustrations...
They are stunning! Extremely detailed and dynamic with beautiful colours and a magical, fairy tale quality. There is so much happening in every scene and so much to laugh at, even in the background.
I love the continuity from one page to the next. One example is at the beginning of the story, when a rabbit can be seen erroneously nibbling on what he thinks is grass. In the next page, the rabbit is flung into the air by the "grass," which is really a dragon's tail. We see him again in the next scene as a tiny speck in the distance, plummeting towards the earth. My almost-four-year-old spotted this before the rest of us and gets into hysterics whenever she sees it; both kids are huge fans of the entire rabbit subplot!
There is one spread which is jet black and it's perhaps one of my kids' favourites, even though there's nothing to see. The blank pages are just as evocative as an intricately illustrated scene. My kids love to pretend they are within the jaws of a dragon when we're at that part (the youngest likes to put the book over her head).
The "Olde Shoppe" and all its curiosities are fantastic, such as a book called "The Art of Wooing" which looks full of indispensable advice. There's a disclaimer on a bottle of goblin remover which says, "you must supply your own goblin." When the knight emerges from the shop, tweaking his moustache, the horse's face is priceless too. He gazes meaningfully at the reader, looking quite fed-up already even though the adventure is yet to begin.
The horse is a brilliant character, who communicates so much without saying a word (not that the knight notices). I love how he imitates the knight's pose on the cover. The horse's body language throughout the story reveals so much and is so humorous. He can see the dragon all along, while the knight is preoccupied with the map of which he is so proud.
I love how the knight raises his eyebrows pompously at the reader when pointing at his map. I love the incredulous and contemptuous expressions of the princess and all the animals he encounters. I love that every time we read Here Be Dragons, we spot something new. There is just so much to love about this book!
Why we love it...
Picture books like this one, which let the reader in on a secret and demonstrate the genius of this genre are always among my favourites. I've already mentioned how much I love the illustrations and the synergy between them and the text. I love how this challenges stereotypes about conquering knights and damsels-in-distress, and how instrumental the "fair maiden" is in the plot's resolution.
My kids and I love the clueless knight. The old-fashioned, medieval language and turns of phrases make his running commentary even more comical. As we've been trying to impress on my eldest the importance of doing her schoolwork, she my frequently remarks, "I don't think that knight did his homework!" Most of all, I love how this book has us in stitches every evening.
Why you need it...
Who doesn't need an incredibly funny and original picture book with gorgeous illustrations? Here Be Dragons is thrilling and amusing in equal measure. This is a unique, immersive, and unforgettable bedtime story.
About the author:
Susannah Lloyd wrote her first picture book when she was five. Her work is inspired by old black and white movies, dusty stuffed animals in museums and all things small in the world.
We don't have these ones yet but hope to get hold of them soon.
About the illustrator:
Paddy Donnelly is a freelance illustrator, originally from Ireland and now based in Belgium.
Paddy's recent picture books include Hom with Jeanne Willis and Míp, which has just been shortlisted for the KPMG Children's Book Ireland Awards. The Vanishing Lake, Paddy's first book as author as well as illustrator, releases next month.