Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

Parents' Choice Awards : Books : Picture Books
There's A Dragon Downstairs

There's A Dragon Downstairs

Spring 2005 Picture Books
Ages: 2 - 5 yrs.
Author: Hilary McKay
Illustrator: Amanda Harvey
ISBN: 0-689-86774-3
Hardcover Price: $16.95
Hilary McKay deals with a familiar problem that often confronts children-dealing with fears. A sound heard in the middle of the nights becomes a monster, a bear, a ghost, or a lion in the closet, under the bed, or just somewhere in the room. Once nighttime imagination takes hold, everyday sounds become something fearful. Such is the case in Sophie's house. Every night she hears the cat flap "rattle" as a dragon enters and slinks into the living room. Naturally she awakens her parents as her first response to her fear. Her father says no dragon stays around their house; her mother takes her downstairs, turns on all the lights, and shows her no dragon hides in the living room. In the light of day, even Sophie agrees no dragon exists. But as soon as night returns, so does the sound of the entering dragon.

McKay's story clearly shows Sophie working out solutions to deal with a fearful situation. Sophie tries three different strategies to defeat the dragon. First, as a knight, she arms herself with shield and sword, but no dragon appears. Her next ploy shows sound reasoning; because dragons breath fire, she arms herself with a fireman's helmet and her supersonic water squirt gun-no dragon shows up. After these two plans fail, she decks herself in her princess dress because everyone knows that dragons like Princesses. Once again, no dragon waits in the living room. Coming to a wonderfully logical conclusion, Sophie decides to confront the dragon as herself-unarmed. And the next night when the dragon enters through the cat flap, pajama-clad Sophie runs down the stairs, into the living room, and discovers that the imagined dragon is none other than her ordinary gray tabby cat.

Children love to figure out mysteries. McKay lets them become involved in the story: they ask questions: What's the sound? Who enters through the cat flap? Will Sophie catch the dragon? A good story draws children into another world; this picture book draws them into Sophie's world.

Amanda Harvey uses watercolors and pencils to create engaging pictures that show energetic actions and reveal the colorful but mysterious house. Her illustrations expand the text, create more mystery, and provide greater understanding. For example, McKay's text says that Sophie put on her armor, shield, and sword; however, we see she wears paper bag armor and a cardboard shield and sword. Another outstanding characteristic of Harvey's pictures includes specific background details and effective shadowing. In almost every illustration, we notice stuffed animals, primarily dragons and dinosaurs, resting on the shelves, the bed, or on the floor. Since most of the events occur at night, Harvey draws black shadowy figures on the walls, using bold, dark, strong pencil strokes and crosshatching. When she depicts the lively, dark headed Sophie, we watch her confront her fears by thinking, wondering, and questioning. Sophie's expressive face lets us see as thoughts dart through her mind.

This picture book gives a positive, unusual, and useful perspective on dealing with the unknown.

Toni Rowden   ©2005 Parents' Choice

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