The plot of Dragon and Captain is rather standard fare for a picture book: two young boys engage in imaginative play with one pretending to be a dragon assisting the other, a sea captain searching for his lost ship. Armed with a (paper towel tube) telescope, a (broken pocket watch) compass, and a (hand-drawn) map, the children run around the backyard and encounter obstacles like a (sprinkler) waterfall, as they search for the captain’s ship. After finding the ship and saving it from the dreadful (teddy bear) pirates, the boys enjoy spaghetti and meatballs for lunch, hinting at their next adventure as Dragon asks Captain, “Is your ship faster than…a sea monster?”
Although the plot itself is simple and certainly not groundbreaking, the use of sequential art to tell the entire story is sophisticated and advanced for the target audience, making this a real standout. Comic conventions in picture books are nothing new—word balloons in particular—but graphic picture books are often fantasy, such as Kevin O’Malley’s Captain Raptor series and David Wiesner’s Caldecott Honor book, Mr. Wuffles. Here, author P.R. Attabach and illustrator Lucas Turnbloom have succeeded in creating a realistic picture book told entirely through sequential art for the very young.
Children and adult readers alike will relate to the experience of the youngsters’ imaginative play, told through juxtaposed images of reality and imagination, such as when the cover image is seen inside the book opposite a panel of the two boys in costume “thoomp”-ing through the kitchen, while the back cover of the book shows the two costumed boys running toward a bedroom door with a sign that says “dragon’s cave” in childlike scrawl. Even the endpapers are in on the fun—the front endpaper features a pirate’s map, while the back shows a childlike hand-drawn version of the same locations.
The digitally painted images are full of bright, bold colors and lots of visual humor. For instance, Dragon, bright blue with purple spikes on his back and a yellow stomach, looks incredibly goofy with his tail stuck on a tree, while in the panel below the young boy attempts to pull his costume tail off the twig of a bush. Meanwhile, redheaded Captain’s large glasses that magnify his eyes mirror the young boys’ perfectly, creating an adorably meek and timid looking ship’s captain.
I would not often choose a graphic picture book for a storytime read aloud, but I cannot wait to read Dragon and Captain at my library. With some strategic pointing and the use of different voices for Captain and Dragon, I envision this being great fun with a preschool or early elementary crowd. Of course, reading in a small group or one-on-one would also be a great opportunity for the child to do some of the storytelling by describing the images, providing an excellent chance to work on visual literacy skills.
I hope we’ll get to see how the next adventure with that sea monster goes in another book with these great characters!
Dragon and Captain
by P.R. Attabach
Art by Lucas Turnbloom
Flashlight Press, 2015
Publisher Age Rating: 4-8