Book Review: The Dragon Hunters, by James Russell, illustrated by Link Choi

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_dragon_huntersWhat would you do if a dragon snatched up your beloved chocolate-coloured Lab? Mum is not much help saying “Please stop telling tales.” Brothers Paddy and Flynn have no other option but to rescue Coco the dog themselves. They pack their bags and make some sandwiches (not as good as the ones mum makes though) ready for their quest. Off they set across their island home, scaling the mountain and looking for the Dragon’s lair.

Once they find it, Paddy keeps watch outside while Flynn creeps in and finds Coco next to the sleeping dragon. All is going well until Coco’s excited barking wakes the dragon and the boys have to run for their lives. And, just as it seems the dragon is about to get them: “Paddy felt its fiery breath warming up his bottom…” they are saved by Paddy’s clever thinking.

This is an adventure story that kids will love. It is written in an easy to read rhyme that works well, with a good pace and the action steadily building up over the course of the story. There are moments of humour and the fact that Mum doesn’t believe the boys have bested a dragon, telling them “That’s nice my darlings, now off to bed” gives the readers a sense of closeness to the brothers: even if mum doesn’t believe, the reader is in on the secret, making them part of the team.

Link Choi’s solid, earthy toned illustrations fit well with the story and earned him a finalist placing for the Russell Clark Medal for Illustration. His dragon is wonderful, and Coco the lab is very cute too I might add.

Russell and Choi have created a wonderful book, ensuring all elements: text, illustration and design, are of a professional quality, and they have gone a step further in producing an AR (Augmented Reality) reading app which brings the Dragon Brothers world into 3D life. This is so easy to use and adds another exciting element to the appeal of the book. The gorgeous end papers feature a map of the Dragon Brothers World, which when using the AR app, appears in 3D complete with sounds and even a dragon or two flying in and out and the boys themselves; very clever and very cool!

The Dragon Hunters is a fun to read, good old adventure tale that is easy to read again and again. It is the first story in a trilogy featuring the brothers, and with the other two titles continuing their dragon adventures – The Dragon Tamers and The Dragon Riders, this set will be a worthy addition to any bookshelf.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

The Dragon Hunters
by James Russell, illustrated by Link Choi
Published by Sourcebooks, Inc
ISBN 9781492649854

Junior Fiction Shorts #3: Dragon Knight #6: Barbarians!, and Barking Mad

Dragon Knight #6: Barbarians!
by Kyle Mewburn and Donovan Bixley

cv_dragon_knight_barbaraiansThis is the sixth and final book in this frequently hilarious series about Merek, a dragon who wants to be a knight, so spends his days in boy-form, attending knight school with his best friend Brin at Lord Crumble’s Castle. Together, Merek and Brin fight bullies, regularly prove that smart beats big, and discover together that being a knight isn’t quite all it is cracked up to be.

In this episode of their story, the Barbarians are at the gate. But when Merek and Brin discover they have actually breached the castle walls, and are looting treasure unexpectedly carefully, they follow them out of the castle. When they are discovered, things go from bad to worse, until help comes from an unexpected quarter. Each of the Dragon Knight stories have occasionally factual inserts, and fantastic illustrations from Donovan Bixley. I recommend the full series as a must-read for anyone who likes the Horrible Histories, or the tales of King Arthur.

Dragon Knight #6: Barbarians!
by Kyle Mewburn and Donovan Bixley
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775433972

Barking Mad
by Tom E. Moffatt, illustrated by Paul Beavis

cv_barking_madIf you have the kind of kid that cracks up at absurdities, have I got a book for you! Granddad is behaving like a dog, so he’s being taken to hospital. Fingers doesn’t believe it at first – Granddad’s a tough old inventor who has been known to sew a gash in his leg up with needle & thread rather than go to the hospital for any reason – but when he and his sister get to his house and see Granddad being carted away, he knows something is definitely the matter. Fingers and his sister Sally are baffled, until they realise Granddad’s dog DaVinci is acting a little more sensible than usual.

So while Granddad gets committed for licking the postman and growling like a dog, Fingers and Sally are trying to put the world to rights. A trip to the dog pound for DaVinci doesn’t help matters any, and by the end of the book your head is spinning with how many identity-swaps there has been. This is a well-paced, ably-written book, with the round-about storylines nonetheless staying within their own rules & making for a satisfying read. Paul Beavis’ brilliant illustrations add to the fun. For ages 7-12.

Barking Mad
by Tom E. Moffatt, illustrated by Paul Beavis
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775433743

All reviews written by Sarah Forster
This is the third in a series of reviews of Junior Fiction, here are number one, and number two, for your reading pleasure.

Book Reviews: What Dog Knows, by Sylvia Vanden Heede, illustrated by Marije Tolman

Available in bookshops nationwide from 8 April.

cv_what_dog_knowsWolf and dog are the quintessential close cousins, and this is their second story, after Wolf and Dog (Gecko Press, 2013). Dog is the smart one, who knows things because he reads books – Wolf isn’t so smart, he’s more of an action-before-investigation type wolf. When talk turns to books, he starts to rhyme:

Look it up in a book?
That’s how people learn to cook!

But Wolf relies on Dog to tell him about things and help him with his plans (and to chase away Cat); while Dog bears with Wolf because, well:
His cousin needs him! Has his house collapsed? Did a tree fall on the roof? Is the forest on fire? Or did Cat come? It’s all the same to Dog. He’d go through fire for his cousin! 

This book is the first I have seen using such an engaging mix of rich, funny character-driven dialogue, and fact-driven (yet still funny) informational sections, to teach kids all about things in the world around them. There are four distinct sections: Mummies and skeletons (watch out Cat!), Robots, knights and pirates, Dinosaurs and dragons, and Rockets and the moon. Everything, in other words, to keep adventurers aged 4 – 9 years old enthralled. And the book includes comprehension quizzes for the most eager learners, too!

The cover design of this book by Spencer Levine is perfect, and the interior design by Luke and Vida Kelly makes a feature of the superb illustrations by Marije Tolman. The contrast of the simple, smooth design of Dog contrasts perfectly with the rougher, woollier design of Wolf. This carries on the characters of the two, with Wolf being by far the roughest, most complicated character (even if he doesn’t read). The illustrations are presented throughout the book, with both full-page focus illustrations, and sidebar illustrations lending their humour to the more technical aspects of the book.

Everybody needs to show their little wolves and dogs this laugh-aloud book. It is suitable as both a read-aloud, and a read-yourself, though younger readers will probably ask about a few of the longer words. You will be amazed what dog knows.

I’ll leave you with Wolf’s last rhyme:
Dog is my cousin
Each day of the year
No matter what happens
He’ll always be there.

Truly, the perfect cousinship.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

What Dog Knows
by Sylvia Vanden Heede, illustrated by Marije Tolman
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776570379