Henry and the Chalk Dragon

This is a book, a children’s story, about two important things: art and friendship.

Henry loves to draw, but he is unwilling to show his pictures to other people, because he is afraid they will laugh at him. When the chalk dragon he has drawn on his bedroom door becomes real and escapes, carrying inside it all the other drawings he has ever made and the ability to change from one to another, Henry has to save the world (specifically his school) from the consequences of his imagination—using the very creative ability that caused the trouble in the first place.

Helping Henry in this endeavor is his best friend, Oscar. As the two try to defeat the dragon by erasing it, Henry is disturbed by a secret that he does not want Oscar to find out: after an angry fight with his friend, he drew a picture of Oscar being eaten by a dinosaur, and he is terrified that the dragon might change into that dinosaur in real life. Oscar is indeed swallowed by the dragon/dinosaur, but he starts erasing it from the inside, thus finally defeating it. Henry confesses about the picture, and tells Oscar he is sorry. With the help of the other school children, they redraw the dragon into a new, less dangerous, creature, and release it.

Things I liked:

It is risky creating art that preaches about art, however I felt that the author, Jennifer Trafton, did a good job. The story was engaging and well-plotted, worth reading as a story rather than relying on its message to carry it.

There are a lot of references to other books, especially children’s classics (Alice in Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Wizard of Oz, and many more). I have read most of them, and caught the references, but there were some that were only familiar, or that I had never even heard of.

Some of the adults in the books were both interesting and useful, which is sadly unusual for children’s books. While Henry’s parents are not present for most of the story, since it happens at his school, they do seem supportive, and Henry respects them. (Though he dislikes being called Squirt.)

Overall, I enjoyed the slightly humorous writing style. This book does not take itself too seriously, as befits a tale of extraordinary events in the ordinary world.

Quibbles: (Not quite “dislikes”)

There were points when the impossibility of what was going on caused my carefully suspended disbelieve to come crashing around my ears. For instance, Oscar has brought to class a creature called an Octagon, which eats anything circular. He keeps it in a shoebox, and it is important to the plot later on, but there is no good explanation of it. My first impression of the story is that it is set in a “normal” universe, before the chalk dragon comes to life. The Octagon does not quite fit.

There is a smidge of feminism. I’m all for girls doing interesting and important things, and I liked the character of Jade, and how she brings her own strengths to help Henry and Oscar. However, there is a passage about girls always being damsels in distress, and how they should rescue boys instead that just seemed heavy-handed and unnecessary to me. I felt that at some points the author handled the subject well, and at other times poorly.

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