In Barto (Gollywood, Here I Come!, 2014) and Sponaugle’s children’s picture book, a young dragon slays his captive princess, her prince and finally his own disapproving father—with laughter.
Young readers will identify with the sad-eyed main character from the start—a dragon named Nickerbacher who’s guarding an imprisoned princess “because his papa told him to.” As he does so, however, he practices his jokes on her, as he yearns to be a stand-up comedian. Most of them involve clever wordplay: “Why did it take me forever to cross the road?…Because I’m always a-draggin.” Just as Gwendolyn tells him that he must pursue what gives him pleasure, the authors show woodland animals fleeing in terror as Papa Dragon approaches. The young dragon tells his father about his dream and is sternly reminded of his dragonly duty. That afternoon, Prince Happenstance arrives to rescue the princess and repeatedly challenges Nickerbacher to fight after the dragon calls him “Prince Fancypants.” Instead, Nickerbacher torches some nearby trees. Soon, Happenstance admits his squelched desire to be a baseball player, and the opponents realize their common ground. Later, in the city, Nickerbacher finds the courage to step onstage for his first comedy act. It will be hard for readers not to laugh along as they see the audience’s delighted, upturned faces. Later, after receiving his father’s approval, the dragon tells one last joke: “You know what happened to the dragon whose dream came true? He lived happily ever after.” The text of this book is full of body language and voice cues and, as a result, often begs to be read aloud, such as when the princess tells Nickerbacher, “You’d make a great comedian.” “Nickerbacher looked over his shoulder. ‘Don’t let my papa hear that.’ ” The book’s expressive, jewel-toned illustrations also pack an emotional punch. Overall, this dramatic story about a dragon stand-up comedian will likely entertain readers of all ages.
A well-illustrated dragon tale that may help bridge the gap between young and old readers.