Archive | May 24, 2014

Billy is a Dragon (series)

Billy is a Dragon

Billy is a Dragon






Billy is a Dragon: First Bite


ebk 9780857983060


Billy is a Dragon: Werewolves Beware


ebk 9780857983084


Billy is a Dragon: Shadow Sifter


ebk 9780857983169


Billy is a Dragon: Eaten Alive


ebk 9780857983183


Nick Falk

Tony Flowers

Random House 2014

pbk., RRP $A12.99


Billy’s life changes the day he walks into Benny’s Pet Shop because they are having special discounts for 10th birthday presents for boys named Billy.  Billy already has Bertha, an ageing bulldog whom he loves very much, so he thinks about a fish or a parrot.  But Benny leads him towards the lizards, and even though Billy knows both his mum and sister are terrified of them, he is captivated by one which Benny tells him is called the dragON lizard.  Determined to know what it feels like he sticks his finger in the cage … and it bites him.  With a painfully swollen finger which keeps swelling, they head home and eventually Billy goes to bed nursing it as it continues to swell and thinking of his upcoming birthday party.  Next morning, while his finger no longer hurts, he’s amazed to discover it has turned green and grown an enormous black claw!  And that’s just the start of it… even though Billy might find being a dragon protects him from bullies, teachers and his sister Becky, when his parents decide that dragons belong in a zoo he has to make a critical decision as well as an agonising discovery.  Is he a Shifter who can change shape or a Plain who stays stuck as he is?

Written at a fast clip, interspersed with eye-catching fonts to emphasise the mood and the meaning, this is a new series from the creators of Saurus Street written to capture the imaginations of those on the cusp of being independent readers and moving onto novels. Billy’s adventures will appeal to all those who can think of better ways to spend their days than being at school, secretly wishing the teacher would disappear in a puff of smoke – which is almost what happens when he sets her hair on fire as he morphs into a dragon in the classroom. And his new persona is very helpful when dealing with bullies. Who wouldn’t want to be able to do that?  With the continuing popularity of characters with super powers and creatures from the realm of fantasy, the series is a great introduction to a new genre that ventures beyond the more traditional witches and wizards.

Tony Flowers’ quirky illustrations are more than just decoration – they are an integral part of the story that teach as much as they tell. There are different types – margin images, standard graphics which explain the words and set the mood, and then there are those that Flowers terms “lore” that expand on the mythology of the world tht Billy lives in.  While they have a cartoon-like appearance, their detail not only enriches and enhances the message of the story but also provide a model for the reader to produce their own. THe artist has tapped into his imagination,  as well as offering an opportunity for the reader to get inside theirs. For example, just what does a bully look like on the inside?  How else would you explain the characteristics of a shifter or a squiff?  How empowering it would be for a child to dissect their own fears in such a way. Perhaps there is even an outlet for the writers and drawers in the class to co-produce their own story about being a dragon, or persuading the principal that such a creature would be an asset to the school.

Series are a perfect way to support the developing reader as they already bring their knowledge of the characters and circumstances to the sequels, providing a familiarity that helps them cross the bridge to independence just that bit more easily. This series (with two more episodes due in June) are sure to capture the attention and imagination of a clientele who can be hard to engage.


A peek inside...

A peek inside…

The Stone Lion

The Stone Lion

The Stone Lion









The Stone Lion 

Margaret Wild

Ritva Voutila

Little Hare, 2014

hbk., RRP $A24.99


The stone lion crouched on his pedestal guarding the entrance to the town’s library. Lifelike in size and appearance, he was “so real, so fierce and cold that small children scuttled past at the sight of him” and in stark contrast to the warm, inviting environment that the concept of a library portrays.  Only Sara, homeless and alone, weeping gently and cuddling a small bundle that is her baby brother snuggled into his paws,  while Ben the librarian leaned against him at lunchtime while he ate his sandwiches and read, laughing occasionally.  Even though the gargoyle perched on the portico above his pedestal explains Sara’s distress and Ben’s delight, the stone lion has no understanding of such feelings.  He just wants to come alive so he can run and prowl and leap – to just move. He imagines himself strolling along the street in front of the library and running in the park across the road.

“Sometimes, stone animals are granted a chance to become warm, breathing creatures” the gargoyle tells him, “But it is for a very short time only, and they must desire it greatly, with a generous heart.” Even though the lion does desire it greatly with no apparent ability to feel, it seems like a dream that will be unfulfilled. Then winter comes and it hits hard. Snow falls and lies deep, and once again Sara comes to the lion’s feet, sinking onto the steps and going limp.  A snowflake falls on the baby’s nose and he wails, waving a tiny fist, and a stab of pity pierces the lion’s heart.

This is a picture book for all ages with many levels of complexity.

Accompanied by evocative pictures created with oil pastels on grey velour paper which portray the mood and atmosphere perfectly, this story is a mixture of fantasy, fairy tale and fable.  The lion at the end of the story is not the lion of the beginning, much like the key characters in The Selfish Giant and The Happy Prince opening the way for in-depth and comparative studies of these texts. How can a single act of kindness make such a difference to so many? Teaching notes are available. 


A peek inside...

A peek inside…