by Josh Funk
Illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo
Expected publication Sept. 6, 2016
Viking Books for Young Readers
Review copy provided by publisher
A sweet and clever friendship story in rhyme, about looking past physical differences to appreciate the person (or dragon) underneath.George and Blaise are pen pals, and they write letters to each other about everything: their pets, birthdays, favorite sports, and science fair projects. There’s just one thing that the two friends don’t know: George is a human, while Blaise is a dragon! What will happen when these pen pals finally meet face-to-face?
This book made me want to search for some pen pals for my 4th graders. I used to LOVE getting letters in the mail when I was young. Actually, I still enjoy getting letters, it just doesn't happen very often. Today we communicate quickly and efficiently with texts, messaging and social media. Letter writing is a lost art for many.
Dear Dragon reminded me how exciting this form of communication can be. Blaise and George have been assigned to be pen pals throughout the school year. George doesn't know that Blaise is a dragon and vice versa. Not only will they write back and forth, but they do it in rhyming couplet!
There are several things I love about this book. First, I love how the characters both mention that they don't particularly like to write in their first letter to each other. Their letters start out fairly safe and basic and evolve into each boy learning lots of things about the other.
I also love how the thoughts of each boy are shown in a thought bubble as they read the letter while the reality is shown on an adjacent page. This would give teacher an opportunity to discuss preconceptions with students.
I also love the ending, but I won't give it away here.
I will be reading Dear Dragon with my 4th graders for sure and can't wait to add it to my classroom library.
I would like to thank illustrator Rodolfo Montalvo for taking the time to participate in a little Q and A today.
4. Is there anything that is hard for you to draw?
1. When did you discover your talent for drawing?
Sadly, I don't have or remember many drawings before 4th grade. But, by then, I was kind of crafty and enjoyed drawing very much. I loved copying (not tracing) other illustrations from books, comic book trading cards, and any cool video game-related art. As a kid of the early 90's there was a lot of Ninja Turtles-themed art. Little by little, as the years went by, I began to notice that not many of the kids around me spent much time drawing. There was always a friend or two who also liked to draw, I still remember one of our collaborations. Somehow, a passion for drawing always stuck around.
2. Can you describe your typical work day?
It's always a little different. It depends on what part of a project I'm in. If there's a project in the works on my table, whether I'm at the thumbnailing stage, final pencils stage, or working on final art, I like to jump in early in the morning. On good days I might clock in six to seven hours by the time noon arrives. Depending where I am on the deadline, I might continue on after lunch, or do some sketchbook sketching or writing. But typically, there are always other things to take care at home that might break up the art sessions a little bit. Lately, every two or three days, I've spent my first couple hours of the day at the coffee shop nearby, working on picture book writing. And sometimes, if I'm not too busy, the day can get a little scattered and run late into the night, but I try to always cross a few things off the list.
3. What is your favorite thing to draw?
Short answer: Stories.
Longer answer: I think my default setting is set to adventure. I love drawing animals, robots, monsters, cultural objects, figures from history, donuts, plants, trees, and robots. The answer to that question is always changing and the questions comes up a lot in my mind. For me, that question can also come with another question, which is, what is your favorite way to draw? Both may vary from day to day.
4. Is there anything that is hard for you to draw?
Emotions are hard to draw. Especially when you're trying to convey them through things like animals or inanimate objects. For me, the difficulty of a drawing comes from the amount of expectations you have for it. Things can get complicated fast if you want a perfect drawing. I try to stay loose and willing to start over at any point of a drawing.
5. In Dear Dragon, the characters write pen pal letters back and forth all year. Today, most people correspond electronically, how important do you think it is for children to practice letter writing?
This question makes me think of a typography class I took in college. Even though we were mostly producing work with computers, there was one assignment where we had to create large scale letterforms that had to be hand drawn and inked. I think the goal was gain a greater connection and understanding of the shapes and details that exist in letters, and also to see and experience the creation of the letters on paper not to just click a button and have them appear. That kind of connection is the type of connection I think of when I think of letter writing, about making art on paper, or writing a story with a pen. For me, it is a way to have a greater connection with my work and hopefully that translates to the audience, as well. Letter writing is great in this way because it is so easy to put a bit of yourself in each letter and try to connect with someone else. With time, people might call letters an archaic method of communication; I would just call it a more special way to connect.
6. In Dear Dragon, the two main characters form some preconceived ideas about each other as they become friends. Have you ever met someone for the first time and they were different than you expected?
Well, I did meet Josh Funk earlier in the year for the first time. By then, we had already communicated on-line and work on Dear Dragon was well underway, but of course there's nothing like meeting in person. Though I didn't have many preconceived ideas about him, I was pleasantly surprised to see what he was really like in person. He's a fun, very positive, and confident guy.
7. What question do you wish people would ask you about your work and what would be your answer?
Usually, I like the work to speak for itself, unless I'm in a critique type situation. I don't mind talking about the visual or narrative aspects of my work but I think I would prefer a question like, what do you think your work will look like in twenty-five years? I wonder what the answer might be. I hope it's a good answer. For me, it raises questions about where I want to go as an artist and what I want my work to accomplish over time. Those are good questions to be reminded of and to have conversations about. Especially, with people who might be on a similar professional journey.
Thank you Rodolfo! I hope we can look froward to many more books from you!
Visit Josh Funk's website.
Visit Rodolfo Montalvo's website.
See what others have to say about Dear Dragon:
Read Josh and Rodolfo's Nerdy Book Club Post-and see the book trailer.
Be sure to visit other stops along the tour!
LibLaura5 – September 5
Teach Mentor Texts – September 7
As They Grow Up – September 8
Emily’s Reading Room – September 9
Reederama – September 10