Animal friends save the day when a dragon’s birthday party gets out of hand in this graphic-novel addition to the venerable Step into Reading line.
Elephant Joe and Zebra Pete hide in the bushes so they can jump out to surprise their friend Dragon. However, instead of appreciating the birthday surprise, Dragon flies into a tree and becomes entangled in the branches. The two friends suddenly turn into firefighters, complete with a ladder truck, for the rescue. After saving him, the friends present the birthday cake, but Dragon sets it afire while blowing out the candles. With no fire hydrant for water, Dragon picks up Elephant Joe and flies to a lake, where the pachyderm’s handy trunk sucks up water to save the day. While the cartoon illustrations will draw young readers in, the story is hard to follow. How did these two buddies instantaneously become firefighters? It might be a game of pretend, but to literal-minded young readers, that premise will be unclear. Though the speech bubbles are fun, including a frog who seems to act as narrator is another point of confusion, as it’s not always clear from its dialogue whether it’s interacting with the characters or describing the action. For a comic-book early-reader to succeed, the speech bubbles and graphic elements need to make sense. The digital art is colorful and amusing, with the animals’ expressions and eye movements telling much of the story.
A visual muddle makes for an early-reader fail. (Early reader. 4-6)