Thursday, April 21, 2022

The Basque Dragon

The Basque Dragon
by Adam Gidwitz & Jesse Casey
illust. by Hatem Aly
Recommended Ages: 10+

Elliott is an uptight kid who memorizes maps and books. Uchenna is almost his exact opposite, always up for adventure. Nevertheless, they've become fast friends, brought together by an eccentric teacher named Professor Fauna, who has recruited them for a secret society to protect the mythical and imaginary creatures of the world. In this adventure, they cross the Atlantic between the end of school day and dinner to rescue a fire-breather in the Basque Country between France and Spain, a creature with healing spit that represents the Euskaldun (Basque people)'s yearning for independence. Of course, the creature is threatened by the evil Schmoke brothers, whose designs on the dragon are at the same time nefarious and silly.

Silliness is kind of the strong suit of this book, actually. It tickles the same funny bone as the theme running through the Harry Potter books of teachers (notably Dumbledore) holding students to ludicrous expectations and standing back to let them sort things out for themselves, in flagrant disregard of their safety. It also sneaks in a lot of information about Basque Country, including some Euskara vocabulary with aids to pronunciation. Its writing is goofy and smart at the same time, with a bright streak of magic going through it: the kind of entertainment that will especially appeal to bright kids. And lest I forget to mention it, there's also a Jersey devil in it, for an added layer of mischief.

This is the second of (so far) five books in "The Unicorn Rescue Society" series, which started with The Creature of the Pines and continues with Sasquatch and the Muckleshoot, The Chupacabras of the Rio Grande, The Madre de Aguas of Cuba and The Secret of the Himalayas. The first installment was written solo by Adam Gidwitz, and each succeeding book has a different co-author. Gidwitz is also the author of the "Grimm" trilogy, So You Want to Be a Jedi and The Inquisitor's Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog. Jesse Casey is an animator and filmmaker who co-founded a studio called Mixtape Club. The entire series is illustrated by Hatem Aly, an Egyptian-Canadian artist who has also illustrated The Inquisitor's Tale, Ibtihaj Muhammad's The Proudest Blue, Geoff Rodkey's Stuck in the Stone Age, James Patterson and Joey Green's Not So Normal Norbert, Ryan Miller's How to Feed Your Parents, M.O. Yuksel's In My Mosque and Saadia Faruqi's Meet Yasmin.

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