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Summary: The Pennykettle household has a special secret. The clay dragons that Mrs. Pennykettle makes and displays in her house are REAL! They come to life when only "believers" (those who believe dragons are real) are around. Each has a special magic. For example, a listening dragon sounds the alarm when strangers approach, and a cleaning dragon dusts here and there. When Lucy Pennykettle (9 years old) is afraid of a "monster" outside her bedroom window at night, her mom makes her a guard dragon. This adorable dragon, young and inexperienced, tries his best to protect Lucy. In the process, he not only uncovers the secret of this so-called monster, but becomes the hero for a displaced bat ... just in time for the bat to have her baby. This is a fantasy story, a nature lesson, and a call for protection of the environment, all at the same time!
Type of Reading: bedtime story, family reading, anytime reading, learning to read, read aloud book
Recommended Age: read together: 8 to 12; read yourself: 9 and up
Interest Level: 6 to 10
Reading Level: 4.3
Age of Child: Read with two brothers, ages 4 and 6.
Young Reader Reaction: My boys adored "the dragon book." They also liked the bat, because, similarly, the bat in the book was, appropriately, a heroine, not a scary creature. We read this book many times.
Adult Reader Reaction: I loved this book. I am a biologist by training, and I loved that the book promoted nature education, conservation, etc. in a fun yet well-researched manner. I loved that the dragon and the bat were "good guys", not bad creatures. Unlike many dragon-themed books, the dragons in this story are good, not scary. The only bad guy was the grumpy old man next door who tries to get rid of the bat. Mrs. Pennykettle is a single mom (!!) and I like how she stood up to the grumpy neighbor with the utmost confidence and tact. I fell in love with the sweet and clumsy-but-well-intentioned Gruffen (the main dragon character).
Pros: Positive lessons and strong female characters really make this book stand out. Wonderful fantasy story, with appealing, hard-working characters. This is too advanced for the stated reading audience, The themes and reading ease are just right for the stated target audience, To advanced for 6 year olds to read, perfect for 4-6 to listen.
Cons: My only caution is that the bat (which is the supposed monster, as it flies at night around the lamppost, casting menacing shadows), before we learn it is a bat, is a teeny bit scary for night-time reading. Readers don't learn that it is a bat until the end of the fifth chapter). Several of the first chapters introduce you to the dragon phenomena and aren't scary at all. If you can get through that, you're fine. The second and subsequent readings are fine, as the kids know that the monster is not really scary.
Borrow or Buy: Buy. This is one to read over and over and over again. I've read mixed reviews online about the other books in this series, but I think they might be worth a try.
Educational Themes: Although this is a fantasy story, there are still very valuable lessons about nature, conservation, ad the biology / ecology of bats.
Notes: This publisher sent a copy of this book as part of the 201 Children's and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards (Cybils) process. This review is not intended to represent the opinions of the Cybils panel. The book will be donated to a reader in need.
Literary Categories: Fiction - animal stories, fantasy, early chapter, series
Date(s) Reviewed: September 2011
Other Reviews: See Critics' Reviews and reader feedback at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.