Scott Rothman (text) and Pete Oswald (illustrations)
Random House: 2021
Reviewed by Viv Young
Sir Cole is looking for an assistant. Luckily, she turns up just in time to help Cole with a frustrated Underwear Dragon who’s learning to read.
Return of the Underwear Dragon is a fun adventure-filled tale that engages with the theme of learning challenges. Sir Cole is a cool and clever knight whose teaching techniques put his reluctant scaly student at his ease; he accepts the underwear dragon’s attempts at subterfuge, takes it slowly, adapts learning to the dragon’s needs and adds in a special underwear reward. Young Sir Cole’s calm approach imagines kids in a position of authority and control which may help some early readers look at the experience of learning in a new light. The dragon’s sometimes explosive responses may also help readers explore the challenges of learning; the Underwear Dragon feels all the feelings you might expect—frustration, fatigue, anger and a desire to learn.
The artwork for Return of the Underwear Dragon is hilarious. The dragon is full of expression—cute and awkward one minute, ready to blow the next. For those kids already interested in castles and knights, the mingling of modern and medieval in text and illustrations is sure to provoke laughter. The dark muddy palette makes for a grim medieval setting overall and allows the touches of colour to highlight key characters, scenes and humour.
The Return of the Underwear Dragon is an entertaining read for any child but for kids struggling with expectations at school and especially with reading, it’s cathartic—full of fun to help the giggles bubble over while learning to learn.
Jabari is building a plane. When he experiences some setbacks, Dad encourages Jabari to take on a junior partner.
Jabari Tries is a heart-warming tale about managing frustration with help and through collaboration. Like many books that tackle frustration it describes what the emotion feels like, provides some tips for managing strong emotions (take a break and breathe away the ‘muddy feelings’), and portrays typical acts of frustration in the illustrations. Its great point of difference, however, is the beautiful sibling relationship it presents which encourages readers to consider how we can share both the difficulties and the triumphs when we work cooperatively with others.
The relationship between Jabari and his little sister is touching and feels authentic. Nika is a young child who for the most part says ‘me’ to any question—she is on her own journey and Jabari’s act of inclusion benefits both himself and his sibling. The sibling sub-plot makes Jabari Tries an excellent choice for young kids who also have a tricky relationship with their baby sister or brother, but the portrayal of working co-operatively may well resonate with kids who don’t have this particular difficulty or who don’t have siblings.
All the action of invention and collaboration is placed by Gaia Cornwall in a backyard setting. The natural green backdrop provides a calming undertone to the scenes of experimentation and frustration. The occasional use of engineering plans in the design and especially on the page in which Jabari recalls key inventors for inspiration provides a contrast to the natural world. These ‘scientific’ motifs also highlight the real-world inventors Jabari recalls. These inventors, who represent both gender and cultural diversity, are named but not described, providing a potential cue to extend the reading process for young readers by doing a little research on ‘real” inventors.
Jabari Tries is a special book sure to appeal to budding scientists who need some help learning how to deal with setbacks and how to collaborate.
A young child, narrating a quest for the cookie jar, quickly becomes enraged when the jar is hard to reach.
Red Red Red explores pre-schooler frustration and anger with great fun and empathy. The child narrator’s tone escalates quickly from indignation at her mother’s soothing words to outright anger, mirroring the strong and sudden emotions of many young people. The mother is always understanding and her suggestion—counting to ten—is gentle, respectful and, best of all, a sound practical measure that can be tried at home.
The artwork for Red Red Red focuses especially on the child and the physical nature of anger—the screaming, head banging, and stomping are conveyed with extra oomph. There is also the liberal use of red—frenzied crayon-like scribbles radiate from the child character, increasing and decreasing as the anger rises and falls. This creative use of red is fun to notice and provides a vivid illustration of the bigness of anger as well as the relief when it is resolved.
This is an entertaining and cathartic story that can help children register anger and learn some tools to manage it.