Have You Seen My Dragon is the first picture book I’ve read by author and illustrator Steve Light. I really hope it won’t be the last. It is a thing of wonder. Truly it is.
It is, to all intents and purposes, a counting book. So what? You might say. There are a billion counting type picture books out there. What makes this one so special?
It’s a good question, and yes there are.
What I love about this is that the quality of the illustrations is brilliant. Each page is absolutely packed with details that you can visit and revisit time and time again and never get bored. It is a book that keeps on giving. The sort of book that will stick in your mind into adulthood. You might not remember what it’s called or who it’s by, but you will remember a detail, an image, a feeling of wonder, and if you ever see the book again you will be overwhelmed with nostalgia and pleasure. It’s that kind of book.
The story is simple. A small boy has lost his dragon. On every page the boy asks another person/thing about the whereabouts of his dragon. We can see the dragon. Nobody else can. It is not entirely clear if the boy has an imaginary dragon. If he does, you would think he could see it when nobody else could, or if it is a memory of a dragon he has seen. The end pages which show a map of the city (I presume New York due to the yellow cabs etc) and trace the boy’s journey to Chinatown, support this. I suspect you could walk his journey and see some of the things he sees if you live there, had the chance to go there. It doesn’t really matter. It’s still a fantastic book even if you never go, and have an entirely different dragon based theory.
The illustrations are, for the most part black and white. The colour items on the page are reserved for the things which are numbered: 1 dragon for example, 8 fire hydrants etc, up to twenty.
One of the things I love about the illustrations are their retro feel. They remind me of some of the books and images of my own childhood in the Seventies. I kept thinking about the book: Harry The Dirty Dog by Gene Zion which I read and re-read as a child. The quality of the artwork is very close to that, and that made me very happy.
I also love the way the illustrations play with perspective. Sometimes a page is landscape, sometimes portrait. Sometimes we see a road twisting and turning and the houses and people twist too, so until you tilt the page to the correct perspective it looks like the people on the pavement are walking upside down. Sometimes you get depth as the dragon might have disappeared into the sewers and pipes under the streets. There’s so much to think about and see and so many details of life in the city that the author captures, it’s a real feast.
This book is ostensibly for toddlers and early years children who are learning their numbers, but it would be a shame to limit its beauty and appeal. It would make a fantastic gift for anyone who loves the art of illustration and city scapes in particular and it is one of those books you could use with older children to help them construct their own narratives and adventures, like the work of someone like Oliver Jeffers for example.