Monday, May 9, 2011

Dragonbreath: Lair of the Bat Monster, by Ursula Vernon (ages 8 - 11)

When 4th graders come up to me and want something funny, I am glad to suggest the Dragonbreath series by Ursula Vernon. It's a fun illustrated novel, with enough of a feel of a comic book to lighten anyone's mood. Best of all, Ursula Vernon really gets what makes kids laugh - gross slime, creepy dark caves, and best friends who need rescuing from all sorts of situations. The latest in this series - Dragonbreath: Lair of the Bat Monster - is sure to please kids who want humor, comics and a dash of adventure.
Dragonbreath: Lair of the Bat MonsterDragonbreath: Lair of the Bat Monster
by Ursula Vernon
NY: Dial Books, 2011
ages 8 - 11
available on Amazon or at your local library
One hot summer day, Danny Dragonbreath and his best pal Wendell are swimming in the local neighborhood pool when they discover a stranded bat stuck in the pool filter. Danny's mom suggests that they take it to his cousin Steve, a scientist studying bats in the remote jungles of Mexico. Steve is definitely a cool guy who shares the same sense of humor as Danny. Wendell is definitely worried that he's going to get eaten alive by mosquitoes or some other type of bug. But then, Wendell is definitely a worrier. And Danny's the one cut out for adventure. Everything changes, though, when Danny is kidnapped by a giant bat monster and Wendell has to find the courage to save Danny.

This book definitely has kid appeal and will hook even reluctant readers. See if your kid would like this. Steve is just taking Danny and Wendell on a midnight walk to check out the bat cave he's studying. It's pitch dark, except for their flashlight, and the stench is terrible.
   "Ready to go on?" Steve shined a light into the cave. "It's worth it, really. Well, it's pretty gross and a little spooky, but --"
   There were few descriptions that could have gotten Danny to walk willingly into that smell, but that was one of them....
   The ground turned strangely crunchy underfoot...
   "What's on the ground? Danny wanted to know.
   "The reason I had you wear boots," said Steve, and shined the light across the floor.
   The floor was alive.
   It seethed with life. Wiggly crawly things squirmed and roiled, and big dark beetles crawled over them. Danny had seen a trash bag split open midsummer once, and there had been squirmy bits, but this was a squirmy bit the size of a parking lot."
Ursula Vernon does a terrific job of making kids laugh and squirm at the gross, stinky descriptions, and the friends snarky banter. But Vernon also works fun science into the mix. I know a lot of kids will think it's pretty cool that Steve is out in the jungle studying bats, trying to find new species. Really, though, what draws kids in and hooks them are Vernon's illustrations. The book is full of bold, two-color drawings in green and black. I especially love Danny and Wendell's oversized, expressive eyes. There are illustrations on nearly every page, some as comic book panels, and others as spot art sprinkled throughout the text.

Kirkus included last year's Dragonbreath volumes (#s 2 & 3) in their Best of the Year lists. Our kids would definitely agree! Try this series out on kids who like adventure and humorous stories, who are ready for medium-length books. It's definitely been a popular series with our 4th and 5th graders, and I can see why! Here's the series so far:
  1. Dragonbreath
  2. Dragonbreath: Attack of the Ninja Frogs
  3. Dragonbreath: Curse of the Were-wiener
  4. Dragonbreath: Lair of the Bat Monster
  5. Dragonbreath: No Such Thing as Ghosts (coming in August 2011)
The review copy came from our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion will go to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.

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