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Joe and the Dragonosaurus by Berlie Doherty is another of the Little Gem publications by dyslexia friendly publisher, Barrington Stoke that I was sent to review. Little Gems are made especially for smaller hands to hold, and are a series specifically designed to sit between picture books and novels that give children with reading difficulties a bridge into more grown up reading.

Joe and the Dragonosaurus

Barrington Stoke give Joe and the Dragonosaurus a reading age of six plus, and an interest age of five to eight years. It would also make a lovely book to share at bedtime with younger children.

As with all Little Gems, there is a lot of style to this publication. I particularly love the shiny, metallic green embossed illustrations on the covers. The inside covers have puzzles to do, and there are the practical cover flaps which act as unloseable bookmarks so the child can always find their place. The end papers with their gorgeous khaki green and cream design of rabbits and Range Rovers are also very stylish.

It is not style without substance however, and the usual Barrington Stoke practical aids for those children who struggle with reading are there in spades.  The book is bright and colourful with a good proportion of text to pictures. There is plenty of space on the page both at the margins and between the clear, sans serif font of the text.  The text has been specially honed to make sure that readers can manage a balance of high frequency words and more sophisticated, unfamiliar words without being overwhelmed, and the larger font size, manageable chapters and cream pages all help to make this as readable as possible.

Joe and the Dragonosaurus tells the tale of Joe whose class is doing a whole term of work on the topic of pets.  Joe is very sad about this as his mother is super allergic to fur and feathers, and he has no pet.  His teacher, Mr. King, suggests that he create an imaginary pet and do his project work about that instead.

Initially Joe has excellent fun making up facts about his eleven legged, rabbit eating, green, hairy dragonosaurus, but events conspire to make him unhappy with it. Nothing will be a suitable substitute for a real pet. Joe doesn’t want a fish or what he calls a ‘bald pet’. He wants something real, something with a loud voice, something big.

On his way home from school, Joe spots a distressed cow in his neighbour’s field, and after he helps his mum feed his new baby sister, Joe goes out into the night to see if he can help the cow.  Joe’s adventures with Mrs. Rowley’s cow make his dream of having a loud pet come true in the most unusual way and make for a very happy, funny ending to this excellent tale.

There are lots of things to love about this story. I love the dialogue and the way Joe speaks. I particularly like his description of the ill cow as ‘badly’.  I liked the mix of tension, as Joe has to figure out what to do in the absence of Mrs. Rowley the farmer, and the humour of the book.  I liked the mix between the imaginary creature of the title, and the real life situation with the cow that Joe finds himself in. The book is so beautifully balanced and cleverly written that it was a joy to read.

Berlie Doherty is a well established voice in children’s literature. Her work Buffer Girl and Street Child are frequently used in schools as class readers in upper key stage two. In our house we love her for her reworking of traditional fairy tales alongside the superb illustrator Jane Ray.  It is nice to see her writing a modern narrative which has all the fantastic qualities of her more traditional tales.

You can read an interview with author Berlie Doherty here.

The illustrations by Becka Moor are splendid. I’ve already mentioned the wonderful covers and end pages of the book, but there is so much more to enjoy in these pages. I loved the whole page illustration of Joe in the dark with the poorly cow. The wash of navy across the top of the picture worked perfectly. I also liked Mr. King’s rather hipsterish beard. There are lots of fine, humorous details in the illustrations that bring this lovely story to life. I shall be very interested to discover more of Becka Moor’s work.

You can read the first chapter of Joe and the Dragonosaurus by clicking on the link here.

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