Perfect Picture Book Friday – King Jack and the Dragon

Perfect Picture Book Fridays are the creation of the lovely children’s book author Susanna Leonard Hill. Check in each week on Fridays for new book reviews. Susanna also has a complete list (alphabetically and by theme) of all the book reviews. It’s a wonderful resource if you’re looking for activities for a book, or books focused on a particular theme.

Title: King Jack and the Dragon

Author/Illustrator: Peter Bently/Helen Oxenbury

Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers

Year: 2011

Genre: Fiction picture book

Ages: 3+

Themes: Imagination; courage; fears; siblings


Jack, Zack, and Caspar were making a den—

a mighty great fort for King Jack and his men.

a big cardboard box, an old sheet and some sticks,

a couple of trash bags, a few broken bricks,

a fine royal throne from a ragged old quilt,

a drawbridge, a flag—and the castle was built.

Synopsis: (from book jacket) Night is falling…playtime is nearly over…but brave King Jack and his band of faithful knights are still protecting the castle from fierce dragons and terrible beasts! This captivating, joyful tale of make-believe is just perfect for brave children everywhere.

What makes it great: I’m always a sucker for a good rhyming story and this book grabbed me from the opening lines. The illustrations by Helen Oxenbury are fabulous, and her illustration of the dragons and beasts the boys fight is right up there with Sendak’s Wild Things. We’ve had this checked out 3 times from the library already – I should probably go ahead and buy a copy!

What readers notice: My 3-year-old loved seeing the baby brother fighting his own baby-sized beasts and dragons. She’s fond of the scary moment at the end when King Jack, all alone, thinks a monster is approaching – it turns out to be his parents coming to bring him home to bed.

What a writer notices: The simple storyline was so true to children’s actual play. It’s a great reminder that stories don’t have to be – really shouldn’t be – complicated. I loved how completely immersed the story is in the pretend play of the children. When King Jack’s friend has to go home, the line reads: “Then a giant came by and went home with Sir Zack.” Perfect. We also hear so much about how the “problem” has to be introduced very early in a picture book, and it was refreshing to read this satisfying story that doesn’t rigidly adhere to that structure.

Links to Resources: I couldn’t find any activities out there in cyber-land for this story, but a wonderful project would be to work with children to build a fort, out of whatever materials you have available. Large cardboard boxes work well. I personally have fond memories of forts made of couch cushions and blankets.

Many 3-4 year olds love dress up and pretend play. If knight-and-dragon stories appeal to them, try spending a day in medieval mode. Your car becomes a coach. Clothing becomes “royal robes.” See how far you can take your imaginative descriptions of the world.

A really fun activity for slightly older kids is creating a personal coat of arms. This can be featured on your fort’s flag, or on a cardboard shield you cut out.

20 thoughts on “Perfect Picture Book Friday – King Jack and the Dragon

  1. Carrie Finison says:

    I agree, Cathy, I love her illustrations. I’m more used to her ‘baby’ books which are very simple, and this book is a great reminder what a talented illustrator she is for older kids as well.

  2. Patricia Tilton says:

    I’m glad you shared this. Reminded me of my own childhood play. Glad to hear that there doesn’t have to be a strong problem with obstacles etc. Love the rhyming and emphasis on imagination! Lovely choice!

  3. Amy Dixon says:

    I absolutely love the cover of this book, I would snatch it up in a second! I have 3 little girls who often insist we play princess, so I’m quite familiar with this theme…and glad that in our stories, I get to be the queen, and not a monster or a giant!

  4. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    I am definitely going to have to locate this one, Carrie – it sounds fabulous! And i love your activities – we;ve had many happy hours making forts of all kinds in (and out) of our house, and i love your idea of the coat of arms! Thanks so much for sharing this one! 🙂

  5. patientdreamer says:

    What a beautiful book Carrie and I love your review of it. I like how you remind us that simple text works and not all writing rules apply. Also love your activities, which take me back a fair bit…lol.

  6. Kirsten Larson says:

    My children have recently enjoyed playing with shields made of posterboard from a recent dragon-themed birthday party. They also got inflatable swords, which has made for hours on entertainment. I think this book would be right up their alley. Thanks Carrie.

  7. clarbojahn says:

    This also takes me back to my childhood and of my sons when they were little. We loved castles and forts made of household objects.

    The cover itself reminds me of where the wild things are doesn’t it? 🙂

  8. viviankirkfield says:

    Carrie…what a GREAT pb! Love the rhyme. 🙂 Love the illustrations. 🙂 Love the whole idea of the cardboard box and sheets making a castle. I know my 4 year old grandson would LOVE it. I’ll see if I can get a copy. 🙂

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