Young readers will delight in being more clued-up than the hapless protagonists in this cleverly-constructed tale of a night-time dragon-hunt that doesn’t go to plan. Illustrated in the bold, bright style for which Leo Timmers is renowned, this picturebook uses light and shade to conceal and reveal in a series of imaginative encounters that are full of humour and suspense.
With an ermine-cuffed gesture, a terrified king commands three of his trustiest knights to save the realm, and we can almost hear their armour clinking as they scurry down the steps. Two are armed to the teeth, but the smallest carries nothing but a candle – the only source of light for most of this story, allowing Timmers to play with our perceptions via the ambiguity of shapes silhouetted against a star-filled sky.
Will the knights locate the dragon? They don’t know what they’re looking for, but the King has given them a general idea, and the information isn’t reassuring. The explorers encounter a series of dragon-shaped silhouettes. On each occasion Knights One and Two panic their way into weapon-induced pratfalls, but Knight Three remains unmoved – probably because he’s the only one who can actually see what’s going on.
When a ‘stabbing tail’ turns out to be a snoozing soldier, the knights decide enough is enough and head for home – thereby missing a jet of fire streaming from the mouth of a large, airborne dragon. Will it find its way to the palace? The finest (and funniest) gap between words and pictures is explored on the final page, in appropriate fashion for a book that delights its readers by giving them the upper hand. Those royal slippers are betraying the King’s hiding place, but shush! Don’t tell the dragon!
Timmers’ original text has been freely translated by poet James Brown, whose carefully constructed couplets provide an appropriately eccentric storyline. There’s a repeated opportunity to join in – ‘Ha ha, ho ho, says small Knight Three…’– and rich vocabulary is explored as the King’s observations are reported by Knight One. The rhythm feels a little insecure at times, which may trip the unwary performer, but with such appealing artwork and a strong narrative arc, this is a minor drawback and multiple readings are definitely on the cards.