Sunday, October 9, 2016

REVIEW: Dragonbreath (book) by Ursula Vernon

Dragonbreath is children's fantasy. It's the first in a series.


Dragonbreath stars Danny Dragonbreath, a young dragon who hasn't yet learned how to breathe fire, and his best friend Wendell, a green iguana. Whereas Wendell studies, does his homework, and would probably never get into trouble on his own, Danny has waited until the morning bus ride to write his science paper. He was going to ask Wendell for help, but his topic was the ocean and Wendell's was bats. Danny's science teacher isn't particularly interested in Danny's paper on “the rare and elusive snorklebat” and tells him to turn in a better paper tomorrow. Library research isn't really Danny's style, so, at his mother's suggestion, Danny visits his cousin Edward, a sea serpent. Danny drags Wendell along with him.

When my local entertainment store announced that it was closing for good, I spotted this on the shelves during the ensuing “going out of business” sales and decided to buy it. I had my oldest niece in mind, but I'm pretty sure it's above her current reading level. I still plan to leave it with my sister next time I visit – the kids might at least enjoy the pictures. Like Vernon's Harriet the Invincible, the book is a mixture of plain text and graphic novel-style pages with illustrations and speech bubbles.

Dragonbreath was a little more focused than Harriet the Invincible, although Danny didn't work quite as well for me as Harriet did. Harriet was fearless, smart, and brave. Danny was fearless but didn't always think before he threw himself into potentially dangerous situations. Wendell had to be the voice of caution, and even then he rarely managed to rein Danny in.

Wendell was basically me. I couldn't help but laugh at this bit: “It was one thing to bring Cousin Edward along – Edward was mythological, after all, and used to this sort of thing – but Wendell was an iguana. Epic tales of heroism and disaster were notably lacking in iguanas. His best friend just wasn't cut out for high drama.” (121) If Wendell had been the star of the story, the whole thing would have taken place in a library.

The story itself was a bit of adventure plus some fairly straightforward edutainment. Danny and Wendell learned about the bends, sea cucumber defense mechanisms (gross), jellyfish, anglerfish (one of which was correctly referred to as female), and more. Mixed in with the real-world stuff was the lost city of Atlantis and a Kraken.

In addition to their underwater adventure, Danny and Wendell also dealt with a bully. Like the rest of the book, these parts were pretty light-hearted. The fierce potato salad was great, and I really liked that it was technically Wendell who got rid of the bully the second time around.

All in all, this was pretty good. I may try the next book in the series.

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