Thursday, September 6, 2018

Warren & Dragon: 100 Friends by Ariel Bernstein, illustrated by Mike Malbrough

Warren has a problem. Actually, Warren has a lot of problems. The shy 2nd grader has moved to a new town, is starting 2nd grade in a new school, and has no friends except his toy Dragon. Warren doesn't think he needs any friends besides Dragon, even though his Hobbes-like dragon friend gets him into trouble. But his sister Ellie, popular and outgoing, has challenged him to make 100 new friends. Can Warren make one new friend, let alone one hundred?

Light pencil drawings show a worried white boy, his bouncy blond twin, and a snarky, pudgy dragon with a long tongue and a penchant for marshmallows and trouble. Warren slowly becomes friends with the new neighbors, a very different family from their previous neighbor, Ms. Reilly, "an older white woman who didn't have any kids." The new family is black, has two moms, a teen son, a baby girl, and a boy named Michael. Their parents would like Michael and Warren to be friends, but Warren doesn't want to be friends with a little kid - Michael is a whole year younger than him, starting 1st grade.

After some disastrous events at school, when Warren takes Dragon's advice and fails to make any friends, he eventually realizes he needs to make some compromises to make friends - and maybe Michael isn't so little after all.

While it's nice to see the diversity offered by Michael and his family, it would have been even nicer to see the minority kid as the main character and not, yet again, the sidekick. The story is told completely from Warren's perspective and his often humorous narration shows his imaginative inner life contrasting with his lack of self-confidence both at school and at home. Several blurbs and reviews compare this to Calvin and Hobbes and while the basic idea is the same - a stuffed toy that is "real" only to the boy who plays with him - the execution is worlds apart. Warren is young, not old, for his age and definitely lacks Calvin's gleeful mischief. He's more like the overly anxious and worried Alvin Ho than the gung-ho Calvin.

Verdict: A mildly humorous addition if you need more beginning chapter books, but not a necessary purchase.

ISBN: 9780425288443; Published 2018 by Penguin; Review copy provided by the publisher

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