Dragons and Zombies and Slightly Clueless Protagonists

How about this part?

“Felicity kept lumbering in his direction…gnashing her teeth…clawing the air…Soon she was just a few lurches away…Stanley weighed his options:  Mauled by a zombie?  Or yelled at by his teacher?  He shrunk down as small as he could make himself at his desk.  He decided he was more afraid of Mr. Baldengrumpy.” (p. 93-94)

Zombiekins

Author:  Kevin Bolger

Kevin Bolger has great book titles–his other book is called Sir Fartsalot Hunts the Booger.  You can tell this guy taught elementary school.  Young Stanley buys an unusual stuffed animal from a creepy old lady’s yard sale, and it turns out to be–you guessed it–a zombie.  He takes it to school.  Craziness ensues.  This story is what we in the teachery business call a “high interest” title.  My students won’t walk away changed, moved and instilled with life lessons, but they sure will giggle a lot and pass this book on to their buddies.  One of my favorite things about Zombiekins is how Bolger portrays most every adult as clueless.  This is a common trope in children’s literature (think Roald Dahl and Lemony Snickett), and it works here.  I just hope that many students get a chance to read and enjoy Zombiekins before one of them steals it from the classroom library.

So, what’s the hero of our next book like?

“You would NEVER have picked Hiccup out of those ten boys to be the Hero of this story.  Snotlout was good at everything and a natural leader.  Dogsbreath was as tall as his father and could do amusing things like farting to the tune of the Berk national anthem.  Hiccup was just absolutely average, the kind of unremarkable, skinny, freckled boy who was easy to overlook in a crowd.”  (p. 15)

How to Train Your Dragon

Author:  Cressida Cowell

I saw the movie version of this last month–it was cute.  It is also only tenuously connected to the book.  The plot is quite different, and the character development is also different.  Another thing I should come clean on–I listened to the audiobook version of this novel while on a road trip.  In the book, Hiccup is your typical overly-ordinary-seeming kid who doesn’t quite fit in with his big, brutal Viking community–and of course it is his differences that ultimately make him a hero.  The dragons in the book are rather cheeky and self-interested, which ends up being important to the plot.  This book, along with others in the series, level in the 6.5-ish area, but I had lots of fifth grade readers just burning through the series last year.  That was in part because the movie came out, but I think so many kids kept up with the series because it is humorous, has fun illustrations, and features the classic unlikely-hero story arc that appears in many of the books that appeal most to the middle grade readers.  This is a series that will outlast the popularity of the movie for sure, and I look forward to book talks with students now that I’m up to speed on this Hiccup lad and his wacky Viking life.

For Writers Workshop:  So there’s a lot of interesting work with text font and size in this book.  When dragons speak, they have a different font from humans, one that kind of suggests fire.  Thoughtshots are done in italics, which is a common choice that my students need to be aware of for writers, and Cowell does lots of all-caps words for emphasis.  This book is a goldmine for teaching strategies for using text aesthetics to convey a variety of moods and emotions.

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