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.
Author/Illustrator: Peter Bently/Helen Oxenbury
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers
Genre: Fiction picture book
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.