Saturday, July 11, 2009

Shelley Moore Thomas's Good Knight

There are a lot of forgettable easy readers out there, unfortunately. Notable exceptions include Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad books, which are brilliantly written, though they may feel a little quiet for some of today's kids; Dr. Seuss's easy readers, such as the iconic Green Eggs and Ham; James Marshall's Fox books; and Mo Willems's Elephant and Piggie books, those shiny new masterpieces. Joanna Cole's Bony Legs is a marvelous easy reader retelling the Baba Yaga story. I've had older students and boys like that one, probably because it's a little scary. And speaking of scary, Alvin Schwartz's In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories is another good easy reader, especially for boys. Two more classic easy readers are P.D. Eastman's Are You My Mother? and Nancy Gurney's The King, the Mice and the Cheese, while Dr. Seuss's Hop on Pop and Eastman's Go Dog. Go! are the easiest of the classics I recommend. (The latter is surprisingly long. It should be read in sections and thoroughly savored.)

Another series I adore for this group of readers is Jonathan London's Froggy books. They're not billed as easy readers, but with a little support, they make a nice transitional tool. The first book, Froggy Gets Dressed, is still my favorite, with its wonderful onomatopoeia and its call-and-response between Froggy and his mother.

Anyway, I recently came across Shelley Moore Thomas's Good Knight books and have happily added them to my repertoire of worthwhile easy readers, particularly for boys. The first book was no doubt inspired by a play on words: Good Night, Good Knight. We start off with an introduction to three dragons, but they're not quite the dragons you might expect:
Once there were three little dragons. They lived in a dark cave. The cave was in a dense forest. The forest was in a faraway kingdom. The poor little dragons were very lonely in their deep dark cave.
And where you have dragons, of course you have a knight. But he's not what you'd expect, either. Then again, the dragons throw him off his game:
He came to the deep dark cave. Inside he saw the first little dragon. "What's this?" he asked. "Methinks it is a dragon!" And he drew his shimmery, glimmery sword. The dragon had on his jammies. He was all ready for bed. "Oh good. You have come," said the dragon. "Could you bring me a drink of water? Please. Then I can go to sleep."
Yep, the Good Knight soon finds himself acting as a sort of guardian to three little dragons. Basically, all of his adventures consist of dealing with the trouble the dragons get into. After he puts them to bed with various complications in the first book, we find him taking care of sick dragons in Book Two. ("Methinks I heard a sneeze," said the Good Knight.) He ends up getting help from a wizard, and then from his mother.

Our hero celebrates his birthday with his three charges in the third book, Happy Birthday, Good Knight. He doesn't guess why the dragons want his help coming up with a present for someone special, and their attempts to make a gift result in more than one mess. Three little dragons can use an amazing amount of glue when making a birthday card!

Books Four and Five switch to a picture book format, so I guess I'm cheating here, but maybe your reader will be able to practice in a slightly tougher format with your help. Take Care, Good Knight is the story about what happens when three little dragons attempt to pet sit for an old, old wizard. But when an old, old wizard leaves you a note telling you how to care for his seven cats and you can't actually read, you're bound to misinterpret his drawings and make some mistakes. Fortunately, the Good Knight is willing to act in an advisory capacity after the cats are put in a cupboard, among other mishaps.

The author's most recent book is A Cold Winter's Good Knight, in which it's too cold for the dragons to stay in their cave, so the Good Knight brings them to the castle. However, there's a ball in progress and the dragons have no idea how to behave. They raise a ruckus as the knight repeatedly tries to instruct them in castle etiquette.

Jennifer Plecas's line drawings, with their bug-eyed baby dragons and their slightly harassed-looking knight, suit this series like a good coat of armor. While her work has a cartoonish feel, the loose lines bring it back into the realm of illustration. It's a nice balancing act.

If you have a kindergartner or first grader at home who's done with Green Eggs and Ham and wondering what to read next, give this series a try. The combination of the author's sense of humor with the fresh premise of a knight fostering baby dragons makes it a charming alternative for the easy reader crowd.

Update: The author dropped by this post and let us know she has a new Good Knight book coming out next year, so look for it!


Carrie Harris said...

I've been wracking my brains about what to get my 5-year-old little boy next, and this is perfect! Can't believe I'd forgotten about these books.

Well, I CAN believe it, but I don't want to.

Charlotte said...

I like the Good Knight books very much, but I didn't know there were this many of them! Thakns--I shall search for them.

storyqueen said...

Thank you soooo much for giving my books such a nice review! I think your blog is awesome. I've been looking for a site just like this (and I love the name, too.)

Just so you know, the Good Knight has a new adventure that will be out in about a year....

Take care!


P.S. Feel free to stop by my blog's mostly about writing for kids and teaching.

Kate Coombs said...

Thanks, Carrie and Charlotte. And it's especially nice to hear from you, Shelley--Good Author!