Henry and the Chalk Dragon by Jennifer Trafton

“Henry Penwhistle’s bedroom door was the sort of door where adventures began.”

And that’s the sort of first sentence that makes me think that this book is going to be a great adventure. Immediately, I am reminded of a wardrobe door into Narnia, or Bilbo Baggins’ front door that led him out onto the road to all sorts of interesting and dangerous places.

“And one day, on top of all the ghostly shapes and squiggles and smears, Henry drew a dragon. . . . [I]t made him think of exotic creatures and perilous places. This dragon was everything a dragon should be: fierce and fearsome and full of fire.”

A door and a dragon. Yes, this story is definitely headed in the right direction.

“[H]e whirled past the overflowing book chest with its stirred-up soup of favorite stories–stories about wild things and unlikely heroes, chocolate factories and tiny motorcycles, buried giants and mock turtles.”

Did you get all of those kidlit allusions? If not, you need to read some more very good children’s books.

I could go on for a long time, quoting sentences and passages from this awesome, adventurous, artistic story and then commenting about how awesome, adventurous, and artistic each quotation was, but now I’m only on page three. And the book has 223 powerful pages. So if I quoted from every page this blog post would become a book—a partially plagiarized, partially fangirling, bloggy book. And you don’t really want to read that when you could be reading Henry and the Chalk Dragon.

Suffice it to say, Henry draws a chalk dragon on the back of his door, but he’s not prepared for the chaos that ensues when the chalk dragon comes alive and goes to school with him. The plot is rather dream-like, for lack of a better word; the things that happen are kind of random, don’t always fit together or follow strict rules, but I didn’t care. The writing is just so good, lots of memorable descriptions and quotes, but not overwritten in the way I felt last year’s Girl Who Drank the Moon sometimes was. And Henry and the Chalk Dragon feels like a children’s book, not trying to push the envelope into YA territory. But it also doesn’t talk down to its intended audience; the story talks about important things like the difference between “real” and “true”, and the importance of friendship and chivalry and art, and what to do when you’re afraid (BE BRAVE) or laughed at (FIGHT FOR THE RIGHT), and the many different kinds of smiles. Oh, and the allusions to classic children’s books are a delight.

I read the book, and then I wanted to go back to the beginning and read it again. But I waited about a week to let the new wear off (or come back again), and now I’m reading Henry and the Chalk Dragon for the second time. I’ll just leave you with few more excerpts to whet your appetite, and then you can be done with this very long, but real blog post, and you too can go and read the truly admirable, original, and applauded Henry and the Chalk Dragon.

“Dragons aren’t scary—well, they are, but they’re a good kind of scary. They’re the kind of scary you want to be scared of. People are the bad kind of scary, he thought. Dragons can only eat you, but people can laugh at you, and that is like being chewed to death by a smile.”

“There is a kind of fear that squeezes your heart with an icy hand and freezes you into a popsicle. But there is another kind of fear that is thrilling and hot, that makes your fingers tingle and your toes tickle each other inside your shoes until you want to leap over the Empire State Building. Henry was afraid with this kind of fear, and it felt good.”

“Miss Pimpernel had at least a hundred different kinds of smiles. Henry thought she must keep them in her gigantic purple purse and pull them out at night to count them, like a pirate grinning as she counted her pieces of silver. She could be his teacher for ten years, and he would never finish learning all the names of all of her smiles. Right now she was wearing her Be-Nice-to-Me-I-Haven’t-Had-My-Coffee smile, which wasn’t her happiest. Still, there were worse.”

“There are many things in this world that do not belong. A volcano does not belong in a bathroom. The Indian Ocean does not belong in Iowa. Ketchup does not belong on chocolate cake. But most, most of all, a teacher’s smile does not belong on the face of a fearsome dragon. When the You-Are-the-Apple-of-My-Eye smile is stretched between two glittering dragon eyes, believe me, you do not want to be the apple.”

Trust me. There’s much more fearsome, smiley, arty goodness where that came from.

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This book may be nominated for a Cybils Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

2 thoughts on “Henry and the Chalk Dragon by Jennifer Trafton

  1. This sounds absolutely delightful, I love books that reference other books and the quotes you’ve picked out are perfect. Especially this one, “Dragons can only eat you, but people can laugh at you, and that is like being chewed to death by a smile.” Sounds like this would be great for discussing too. Bumping this up on my TBR.

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