Thursday, 12 May 2016

There's a Dragon in my Backpack by Tom Nicoll and illustrated by SarahHorne

There's a Dragon in my Backpack by Tom Nicoll is a short, action-packed, chapter book illustrated by Sarah Horne. It is ideal for the newly independent reader who is developing reading stamina and making the transition from picture books to chapter books. It is the second story about Eric and his pet dragon, Pan. However, you don't have to read the first story in the series to be able to fully appreciate and enjoy this book as it reads well as a stand-alone story.

It is told in the first person by 9 year old Eric Crisp. Eric has a secret pet: a mini-dragon called Pan. Pan's thirst for adventure gets Eric into all sorts of scrapes and children will enjoy reading about the lengths Eric has to go to in order to keep Pan a secret. He loves his dragon despite this and is willing to put himself in danger in order to rescue Pan.

As a class/group read, teachers can explore characterisation. There are clear contrasts between the good and the bad characters, whilst at the same time some interesting similarities. Both Eric, the loveable protagonist, and Toby, the loathsome neighbour tell lies. Exploring why despite this, we still love Eric but detest Toby, teachers will be able to further children's comprehension skills beyond the simple distinctions between good and evil.

The story structure is a relatively simple one which is chronologically sequenced over the course of two days. This means that children will be able to comprehend the events with ease. However, the comprehension of the characters will require pupils to focus more on their developing skills of inference. Nicoll utilises the writing technique, often referred to as 'show not tell' throughout the book. The three friends, Eric, Jayden and Min all have their own individual character traits which can be explored through an examination of their dialogue. Likewise, later on in the book when the three friends meet Emily from the La-Di-Da school, children will need to use their inference skills to know that she doesn't believe their story about what is in the backpack and also why she doesn't believe it. 

It would also be interesting to focus on Toby as a character. Eric's views of him change as the story progresses. This makes it a good text to use when introducing children to the idea that character traits don't remain static. They are influenced by the events that occur.

Horne's black and white illustrations throughout the book break up the text making it a good transition text from picture books to chapter books. Children won't be daunted by the number of words on the page. Likewise, there are a number of 'notes/factfiles' which Eric has produced that serve the same purpose as well as providing additional information. The illustrations will also support children who still find it difficult to visualise a story or have no prior experience of some of the settings/events in the story. For example, many children will not have had experience of or know anyone who attends a private school and the illustration will help those children visualise the description of Toby's uniform.

Ideal to use as a class/group text to develop children's comprehension skills in particular inference. It would also make a good text to model various writing techniques or as a Talk4Writing stimulus. The book will appeal to both boys and girls alike.  The fact that the protagonist is a boy and there is a great deal of humour and action in the story means in particular that it ticks all the boxes that have been identified in research about motivating boys to read and this age group has proven to be the crucial age group in developing life-long readers.

Publisher: Little Tiger Press
Publication Date: May 2016
ISBN: 978-1-84715-676-1

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