Oh, to live in the land of Jack, Zack and Caspar, three steadfast boys with imagination and the time to play and play! All it takes is a cardboard box, an old sheet, some sticks, trash bags, bricks and a quilt to build a castle to keep these three brave knights occupied fighting dragons and other beasts. Told in light rhyme, King Jack and the Dragon is a paean to a time when children could play without the worried warnings of grownups mucking things up. Author Peter Bently and beloved artist Helen Oxenbury have created a perfect accompaniment to Oxenbury’s earlier We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.
Black-and-white sketches illustrate the construction of the fort and consider the dilemma posed when “giants” (parents) interrupt and take one of the knights to bed. Full-bleed color enlivens the scenes where our young heroes fight dragons and beasts. While each of the boys—leader King Jack, sidekick Zack and pacifier-sucking Caspar, has his own personality, I found my eyes drawn to baby Caspar. While Zack and Jack are fighting, he is quietly poking a baby dragon’s tail, exploring a snake’s tongue and eventually chasing after beasts with a wobbly stick. The other boys are busy with their own dragons, but they still include the little guy, even feasting with him in their stronghold. When daylight turns to dusk, “Wrapped up in his blanket, Jack sat on his throne, ‘All right then,’ he said. ‘I’ll fight dragons alone.’ ” Initially frightened by the wind and some little critters, Jack is suddenly faced with somethingthat makes him call out to his parents as the THINGapproaches. Never fear, he is ready.
Parents will embrace this stunning, oversized volume and note the visual similarities to Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, but that’s where the similarities end. There is no psychological undertow—King Jack and the Dragon is simply a good old-fashioned picture book that celebrates the imagination of young children. No electricity or wifi is needed here—just a pile of stuff, a gentle rhyme, the time to play and some grownups who know when it’s time for bed.