Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Small Readers: A friend for dragon by Dav Pilkey

While most kids - and adults - think of Dav Pilkey only as the author of the riotously popular Captain Underpants and Dogman graphic blends, he originally started his career in the early 90s with picture books and other titles for a young audience, one of the first being the Dragon series. It was well-reviewed at the time, suggested for readers age 6-8 and marketed as a beginning chapter book.

Fast-forward nearly 30 years and Pilkey is extremely well-known in his field, children are being pushed to read younger and younger, while reading abilities continue to decrease (hmmm... can't be any connection there, can there?) and Scholastic is turning out a new line of easy readers marketed to kindergarten through 2nd grade, for kids who are not yet ready for their Branches chapter books. Among their original titles for the Acorn line, they are also republishing higher-level easy readers (or low-level chapter books, depending on how you look at it) and one of the first is Pilkey's Dragon books.

The story is simple; Dragon, a blue, dinosaur-like creature, goes out to find a friend. A snake plays a mean trick on him, and he takes home his new friend - an apple - thinking it can talk to him. The apple, while at first just what he was looking for, eventually doesn't seem well and Dragon takes it to the doctor, where a hungry walrus transforms the apple into a skinny, white core. Sadly, Dragon buries his friend. He grieves throughout the fall and winter, but in the spring, a new tree appears with lots of apple friends!

Pilkey's trademark humor isn't quite fully realized here, although his apparent dislike of female characters is in the grossly overweight female walrus. A note in the newer edition says that Pilkey taught himself to use watercolors, with a child's paint set from the grocery store, when making this book. According to original reviews, later books in the series are funnier; this one has a bit of a melancholy feel to it, especially with the mean snake and Dragon's extended grief.

I compared the original and the new edition; the text remains the same (right down to words like "catsup") and the art appears the same as well, if slightly brighter on some pages, but that could be just that it's a newer book. The layout has changed a little - the original was just 47 pages long and the new edition is 51, plus some bonus features in the back, like how to draw Dragon. This was done by splitting up some of the pages; some text is against a white background and the art has been shrunk to fit in the smaller format.

Scholastic recommends this for 1st grade and it has a lexile of 460. As I mentioned above, the Acorn books are being marketed as easy readers but because of the simultaneous push for kids to read younger (I get a lot of parents of four year olds asking for leveled readers) and the drop in reading ability (I only know a handful of 5th graders who read - and comprehend - what is being produced for middle grade) I've decided to put the Acorn titles in our beginning chapter books. This will satisfy kids and parents who want to read "real" books while offering something more accessible.

Verdict: I've realized before that I'm not really a fan of Pilkey and don't necessarily "get" his sense of humor. However, name recognition he's got in spades and I think this will be a popular series once there are more available so kids can get past the sad first book.

ISBN: 9781338341058; This edition published June 2019 by Scholastic; Purchased for the library

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