Henry and the Chalk Dragon (a review)

Henry and the Chalk Dragon cover large

Henry and the Chalk Dragon, by Jennifer Trafton (Rabbit Room Press, 2017).

TIE YOUR SHOELACES.

i am not an impartial reviewer of this book. i’ve been agonizing over this, because i want to write a review worthy of the book itself, but the truth is that i adore Jennifer Trafton. She makes me want to be brave, and sometimes, with her whispered kindnesses in my heart, i can be.

Be brave. Be brave. Be brave, says Henry’s chivalry. It’s hard for him to be brave, too. He is a knight, but he is also an Artist, you see, and his wild imagination is hard to contain, and just as hard to let out. When he tries to draw nice brown bunnies calmly eating lettuce, the Work of Art inside him aches to draw bunnies that jump so high they tear holes in the clouds and land on Mars, or a rocket-powered bunny with laser eyes. His teacher and principal don’t know what to do with him. He has one best friend, but is afraid the other kids won’t understand—even his best friend doesn’t always. So when one day he draws a magnificent jungle-green dragon on the back of his blackboard-painted door and it runs away, Henry is more worried than anything, even though his dragon thrills him. Suddenly, the Work of Art he has been hiding is out in the world for everyone to see.

i don’t know what i love best about this book—the chivalry, which is often funny (“Don’t feed girls to dragons”) and often cuts right to my own fears as an Artist; the golden trumpets of Jade’s bardic songs; the way Henry’s conflict with his best friend, and his dragon, and his Art, and his principal, all collide and swirl toward and past and around each other to resolve into beauty (the one moment with his dragon—oh! i might cry right now); Oscar and his pet octagon; their wonderful teacher Miss Pimpernel with her beaver-teeth hair (she was a superhero, you know)… i could go on for days.

My copy of this book has already been colored in. i couldn’t help it. After reading Henry, the colors won’t hold still. i am going to stop writing and go back to coloring—and then later today, i am going to go back to my own writing. Because when i am tempted to think i can’t, Henry’s chivalry tells me Tie your shoelaces.

Illustration by Benjamin Schipper. Coloring by me and Henry.

Henry and the Chalk Dragon releases April 4. You can preorder at the Rabbit Room—preorders come signed, and with two free coloring pages (but i do definitely recommend coloring in your book!).

Jennifer is also the author of The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic. At last count i had bought twenty copies of this book so far. i love it with my whole heart. You should read that one, too.

Essaying

For some months now, i have been grieving Peet the Sock Man. His brokenness. His need. His glory. His inability to hold onto his glory when his failures rise up and name him again and again. His desperation. His aloneness. His unwillingness to let his sin define him, even as he has lost all sense of himself.

Peet says to me things i have not yet begun to understand. Glorious, broken, beautiful Peet.

Themes of brokenness and redemption crack my heart open and hollow me out.

Because my heart is so raw when i read his story, because i know beyond a shadow of a doubt that his story is my own, i have been struggling to put into words what Peet means to me. But i want to know what he means. i need to, because i have a deep sense that what he says, in his sweet gibbering way, is about hope. Hope amidst despair. Hope that shines like the dawn.

The last two weeks i have been reading and rereading things that speak Peetness to me in the hopes that they will help me wrap my brain around my heart and give it words. Giorgio Agamben, an Italian philosopher, was recommended to me as a starting place for thinking about redemption in a pre-Christian world, and i ought not to have been surprised to find Peet there. Darren Aronofsky’s Noah paralleled some of Agamben’s imagery. Hutchmoot addresses by Jennifer Trafton and Travis Prinzi spoke volumes to me; Jennifer’s in particular set my heart ablaze and made new thoughts come out of my ears—thoughts about what Peet, and we, are perhaps becoming. What if the stories are true? In studying Scripture, i was suddenly thrust back into memories of George MacDonald’s The Princess and Curdie, and found such a parallel between Peet and Lina that i wondered how i had not seen it before.

i still don’t know how to say what Peet says to me. But my heart is leaping in holy breathlessness as these thoughts and hopes pour through me.

The fourth and final Wingfeather book is on its way. The public release date is July 22, but Kickstarter supporters—over 2100 of us—will be receiving our copies in early May. My hope was, and is, to make a stumbling attempt to express the hope that Peet gives me before i find out how Andrew would answer the question of what he (and we?) are becoming. But my heart is tangly, and my words so inadequate. i must write; i must—but can i?

i know that Peet must die. But that is not why i grieve him.