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Monday, 15 May 2017

George and The Dragon

George and The Dragon
Author and Illustrator: Chris Wormell
Publisher: Red Fox, Random House Children's Books, 2003

Here's a picture book that stylistically throws testimony to the adage 'less is more'. Generous double page spreads throughout, very little written text, illustrations cast in a simple reddish, brown, purple hue; it feels unusual, it's preserve, endearing.

It's high time I took this book back to the library, but the children are stuck between the binary of frightened and enchanted by this one, so it's remained a stalwart of the bedtime read this week. Fans of fantasy will love this for their children; the rich red illustrations of the immense elongated hulk of the 'mighty' fire breathing dragon remind me of David Day's illustrations of Tolkien's bestiary. With two thirds of the spread devoted on each page to the picture (always in landscape profile), the story takes a comfortable slow, pace feeling nicely controlled. What's also nice about the illustrations is the room dedicated to 'scenery', so the epic mountainous skyline on one spread, the craggy rocks and backdrop of the cave in another. This sets the scene so nicely, and also supports the message of the narrative, in that everything is relative in size- 'small can be big'.  

In terms of the plot, we meet a terrifying dragon who can 'fly higher than clouds and faster than birds'. He's shown battling an army of knights, burning down a village and carrying off a princess. The depiction of the dragon's thin, worm-like body, smoking nostrils and huge claws really contrast the contemporary (tame) rotund bodies of modern children's dragon illustrations (such as Zog by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, and The Trouble with Dragons by Debi Gilori).  There's something truly original and in so, frightening about this dragon.  

The story is initially set up as dark and scary, with the dragon appearing unbeatable and huge against the mini-scale hopeless figures of the knights (whom he could 'brush away' 'with 'a sweep of his monstrous wing'), and the protesting captured princess. the text then alludes to the dragon harbouring a secret fear, his Achilles heel, which humorously turns out to be a fear of mice. The way this plot turn is introduced, in terms of children's literature, is interesting, very dry in humour here, with the cave entrance littered in a macabre way with skulls and bones and then a mouse, turned away, reading a property sign reading ' sold' at the mouth of the neighbouring cave.  At this point the written text doesn't quite flow as well, introducing the idea that George the mouse seeks sugar for his cup of tea (how British. or should that be 'English' given the context- George and the Dragon').        

At this bizarre turn the narrative unfolds and ends speedily; the dragon, petrified, now flees, and the mouse, a hero, is treated to a feast by the princess. The story then closes with the mouse in residence in a 'cosy little hole in the castle wall' underneath a 'beware of the mouse' warning sign; the dragon, alarmed, cowers behind a mountain. In few words and vast illustrations then, Wormell easily conveys the message not to judge or anticipate on appearance alone.

This is a really delightful, moral, and learned children's picture book then. It's a masterclass in captivating a very young audience; this book being well received by ages 1, 3, 5 and 7 in my house.    

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