Written and Illustrated by Kenneth Kraegel
Candlewick Press, 2012
Henry Alfred Grummorson was the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson of King Arthur, the noblest knight ever to wield a sword…
The plot in a nutshell: A boy searches for adventure.
On his sixth birthday, Henry rides his donkey, Knuckles, out into the world, searching for an adventure. First, he seeks out a fire-breathing dragon and he challenges him to a battle. The dragon wants to compete at blowing smoke rings. Henry tells him that he wants to fight for real and the dragon suggests he visit the Cyclops in the mountains. But when Henry throws down his challenge to the Cyclops, he finds himself in a staring contest instead of real combat. Next, he faces the Griffin, who accepts Henry’s challenge by setting up a chess board. Finally, he takes to the sea to challenge the Leviathan, whose fierce roar has Henry running for the shore (even though it’s just a prelude to a friendly greeting). Although unable to do actual battle with anyone, Henry realizes that he’s done a lot for a six-year-old and that he’s very happy to have all these new friends.
Author/illustrator Kenneth Kraegel made his picture book debut with this story about adventure, courage, preconceptions and friendship. I love Henry’s enthusiasm and his earnest belief that, because he is a descendant of King Arthur, he should be fighting monsters. Of course, none of the monsters want to fight and Henry has the presence of mind to realize that he actually doesn’t want to fight, either, which shows a lot of maturity for a six-year-old. His declarations of battle are always in uppercase and spoken with a medieval formality that manages to be more endearing than imposing.
The artwork is done in watercolor and ink, with awesome landscape details for each of the monsters he encounters. I particularly like the detail of the swirling bark on the Griffin’s tree and the unusual tentacle-like waves in the Leviathan’s ocean. The book closes with an image of the friends playing a game together. To me, this book almost felt like it was flying in the face of learned prejudice, reminding us that we are our own people and not condemned to make the same choices that our ancestors made.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that playing with friends is always better than fighting with enemies.