Kenny & the Dragon
By Tony DiTerlizzi (2008)
There are different ways to tell a dragon story. Tony DiTerlizzi knows this. Looking for knights and armor and fair maidens? Fire-breathing and flying? Medieval tales of derring-do? Well Kenny & the Dragon has a little of this, but it is really about something else.
It’s a story about friendship. Its about confounding expectations. And it’s about really, really liking crème brûlée. Seriously.
Kenny & the Dragon – despite its lush, cute illustrations – is about a dragon who is in fact sophisticated, educated, cosmopolitan, even effete. What he is not is dangerous or threatening. (Although he is very, very witty.) He is not what you’re expecting.
And that’s the trick of Kenny & the Dragon. My intelligence is that kids (and families) warm to Grahame – that’s Grahame “like the cracker” – the dragon. They revel in his witty comebacks. In his taste in the world. (He likes painting. And sunsets. And playing chess.) And his sense of priorities. (He really, really likes crème brûlée.)
Grahame the Dragon is not the protagonist. That would be Kenny – the can-do rabbit – whose parents understand him – but who is often misunderstood by his community, his village, his town.
DiTerlizzi creates conflict as Kenny must scheme to try to protect Grahame from the town’s misunderstood conception of dragons. (“That devil scourge!”) The reader/listener is on the scheme because we know what Grahame is really like.
Kenny and the Dragon is not the first story to center upon a young protagonist protecting a misunderstood character of another species or time. (Charlotte’s Web; The Indian in the Cupboard; The BFG; and The Cricket in Times Square come to mind.)
But Kenny & the Dragon is like none of these books. It’s different in the way DiTerlizzi tells his story. And in the way Grahame confounds one’s understandings. That, surely, is why children like it. (I received a lot of “that’s a great book” as I carried it around during the month I was preparing these materials.)
I encourage families to discover Kenny and Grahame together. I encourage schools to teach their students about Beowulf and Grendel. (Grahame makes quite a few jokes about Beowulf – and there are many recent graphic novel adaptations of the medieval epic that can be consumed and understood by elementary school audiences.)
And I encourage every school to make – and enjoy – crème brûlée together. (It’s the best way to get Grahame to come to your banquet…)