It’s Friday, which means it is time for a Perfect Picture Book. This week, it’s The Flying Dragon Room by Audrey Wood and Mark Teague. Audrey Wood wrote The Napping House and King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub, among other, and Mark Teague illustrates the How Do Dinosaurs … books. A pretty good pedigree for a picture book, right?
- Published by Blue Sky Press, 1996
- Fiction, for ages 4-8 (so says The Internet; my almost-three-year-old thinks it’s swell).
- Topics: imagination, tools, building
- Opening: “It all happened because of the Flying Dragon Room, or so they say, though Patrick didn’t know it at first.”
A handy-woman named Mrs. Jenkins lets Patrick borrow her tools and he uses them to create a fantastical world in what appears to be the cellar of his parents’ house. He takes everyone on a tour and each room is more marvelous than the last, including the Small Creature Garden and the Bubble Room.
I’m beginning to understand that I like illustrations that feel “special” when I read a picture book. And the pictures in this book are very special — the rooms are loaded with details and invite some extra imagination work. There is no explanation in the text for what everything does or is supposed to do or why it’s there. If you want to pour over the images, you can come up with all kinds of stuff on your own.
Another thing that makes this particular book stand out is Mrs. Jenkins. She is old(er), with a crazy white hairdo, and she is a handy-person hired to paint a house. You don’t see that many older women in children’s books, unless they are grandmas (at least, this is my experience; feel free to tell me what books I’ve missed). But besides all that, she is such a cheerleader for the kid Patrick. It’s obvious to me, as a grown up, that Patrick has taken her tools and imagined a world of extraordinary possibilities, but Mrs. Jenkins takes it all very seriously. And so does the book. There is no indication whatsoever that anything is made-up or make-believe. Which won me over completely.
- The obvious activity is to hand a kid some tools, real or play, and tell them to build you something. At our house, this results in more “fixing” existing stuff rather than building completely new anything, but I take what I can get.
- Create simple “fairy” doors and hide them around your house or yard. Talk about who might live there or what crazy things might be in the tiny room on the other side. I’ve seen very adorable and expensive fairy houses and doors you can get for the yard, but these are just paper ones you can make and decorate yourself. Brilliant.
- Here is a site with ideas for how to get started with imaginative play. I like the idea of leaving a “scene” out for a day or two, so kids can come back to it later (this was my M.O. as a kid).