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Posts Tagged ‘humorous fantasy series’

Babymouse is another popular graphic novel series for young readers, similar to Ursula Vernon’s Dragonbreath series, which I mentioned earlier this fall. The creators here are a brother-sister team, Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm, who have won multiple awards and sold zillions of copies all over the world.

Babymouse, the title character, is an excitable and dramatic young girl who copes with school and peer relationships through her vivid imagination. She reminds me a lot of Ramona the Pest, a first grader who stars in her own series of early readers. The cover copy says Babymouse in junior high, but she reads a around 5th grade to me. This is mostly because the books I’ve seen deal with issues of popularity but not dating. Also, she has only one teacher, and by junior high, kids go from class to class.

Dragonslayer is book #11 in the series. We find Babymouse day-dreaming in school, imagining herself confronting a terrifying dragon — only to have the dragon turn into her teacher, who is handing back a math test. Are we surprised that the grade is equally terrifying? After a few snickers from bullying classmates, Babymouse is presented an even more grueling quest. Her teacher assigns her to join the Mathletes team!

Babymouse dutifully goes to meetings and even makes a few new friends. She goes through fantasy sequences quoting Lord of the Rings, Naria, and more. Does her math improve? Well…

This was actually an issue for me. Babymouse doesn’t solve her problems by learning the math. And why would any teacher assign a failing student to the Mathletes? I’d think some other form of tutoring would be preferable. The other issue is that we only see the titular dragon for a few pages and it isn’t a real character in the story. But that’s just me.

I’ve enjoyed the Babymouse books I read, although they are definitely graphic novels on the lighter side. Don’t look for deep exploration of meaty issues here. Just relax and enjoy this silly and sweet graphic series.

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The death of Avatar Roku, as mentioned in my past post, left Fire Lord Souzen free to pursue his ambitions. He gathered his troops and began a war against the Air Nation, where the next Avatar was destined to be born. But, worse, Souzen abandoned the Fire Nation’s long alliance with the mystical dragons. No longer wise companions, dragons became victims hunted by the elite.

(Personally, I wonder about this. Couldn’t the dragons just fly away? But, that’s what the story says.)

So popular was this sport, the mystical dragons were completely wiped out. Or so it was believed…

Another major character in Avatar, the Last Airbender is Iroh, a once-mighty Fire Prince who retired from public life after the death of his beloved son, Lu Ten, who fell in the war for world conquest. Iroh wears a lot of hats — sage, general, royal heir, resistance leader — but the one we care about here is “Dragon of the West.” Iroh, like all Fire Princes, went hunting for dragons to prove his prowess. He returned claiming to have slain the very last dragon in the world.

Throughout the series, Iroh is a mentor to the tormented Fire Prince Zuhko. Once Zuhko gives up on rage as a source of his firebending, he has to find another path. By this point Iroh is in prison, but Zuhko goes with Aang to search the retreats where the last dragons lived in hopes of gaining insight. To their surprise, they encounter a secret cult of Sun Warriors who are protecting… the last two dragons!

These are Ran and Sha, two ancient spirits who test Aang and Zuhko both in body and spirit. Ran and Sha are red and blue, a yin/yang pair similar to the two carp Tui and La who embody the moon and sea in waterbending lore. They are much larger than other dragons, perhaps due to their age, and seem much more powerful than other dragons depicted in the series.

After finding the Zuhko and Aang worthy, they impart the true meaning of Fire, which is the sun’s life-giving heat. With this knowledge, Zuhko is able to face his terrifying older sister, Azula, in personal combat. As for Iroh, once the 100-year-long war ends, the “Dragon of the West” opens a tea shop and lives out his life in peace.

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I mentioned in my last post that red and blue dragons represent honor and compassion vs. greed and hatred in the animated series Avatar, the Last Airbender. This contrast appears in a dream sequence involving Zuhko, the exiled Fire Prince, but is explored more deeply in the life story of Avatar Roku.

Roku was born to the Fire Nation, where he trained alongside Souzen, heir to the throne. The two young men grew up together and seem to have been close friends. Each of them had a dragon companion. Roku’s was the red dragon, Fang. Souzen commanded a blue dragon (not named in the series). However, as Roku devoted himself more fully to the duties of Avatar, this friendship was strained. Souzen had designs that the Fire Nation should dominate the world. Roku was forced to stand against him. Although Roku won the debate, Souzen never forgave what he saw as a betrayal.

Roku lived for many years on a small island, where he had a wife and family. But one day a volcano erupted on a nearby island. Roku and Souzen both rushed to the scene. Together the two old friends saved a group of villagers from certain death. But, alas, Souzen remembered his old grudge. Before the volcano was under control, he left abruptly. Roku alone was not strong enough; he and Fang died together.

Despite their tragic deaths, Fang and Roku play an important role in the animated series. Nor is Fang merely a pet obeying Roku’s instructions. When Aang stumbles into the spirit world, it’s Fang who first greets him. Fang brings Aang to Roku. Several times, he facilitates spiritual journeys or revelations that warn Aang of danger and help him develop his skills as Avatar.

Next time, I’ll continue the tale of Avatar’s firebending dragons.

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One of my favorite American animated series was Avatar, the Last Airbender, which aired on Nickelodeon from 2005 to 2008. The show is a children’s adventure set in a quirky, Asian-influenced fantasy world. By turns hilarious and dramatic, it presents the struggle of Aang, last of his tribe, to fight off the rapacious Fire Nation. He’s joined by many friends, chief of whom are Katarra and Sakka from the Southern Water Tribe and Zuhko, a Fire Nation prince who (late in the series) becomes Aang’s comrade in arms.

In Avatar, magic takes the form of “bending.” Through moves similar to a martial art, bending allows people to control one of four elements — Earth, Water, Air and Fire. In charge of it all is the Avatar, the only person who can command all four elements simultaneously. He’s responsible for maintaining the balance of nature and negotiating between spirits and people.

In this series, dragons play a small but important role. As in Asian myth, the dragons are long and thin, with elegant manes and whiskers. Dragons exist in both the physical and spirit worlds. They are wise guardians and advisors to all humans, but especially to the Fire Nation. Dragons were the original┬ásource of firebending, although it can’t be said they willingly taught this skill. An enterprising man named Wan watched a white dragon swooping gracefully through the sky. By copying its movements, he was able to master his new element.

Wan taught others what he had learned, and eventually his followers grew to become the Fire Nation. Centuries passed, and it became a tradition that the most powerful Firebenders had dragons as┬ácompanions. Not pets, mind you — companions who help and protect them but also seem to provide a moral compass.

Throughout the series, there’s a dichotomy of dragons representing yin/yang or good vs. evil. Red dragons are virtuous beings who accompany the most enlightened characters. Blue dragons are vicious creatures who join with forces of hate and greed. It’s a striking way to show who some of the characters really are.

In my next blog, I’ll get into some of the specific dragon characters in Avatar.

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Goblin Quest, by Jim C. Hines, is home to one of the most impressive dragons of modern fiction: Straum. If you notice similarity to another famous dragon, it’s no coincidence. Hines writes funny fantasies that skewer popular stereotypes. His debut trilogy poked lots of fun at D&D and the whole dungeon-delving, treasure-grabbing mythos that goes along with it.

The star of the show is Jig, a little blue goblin who gets captured by a group of typical adventurers. You know… the warrior prince, the mad wizard, the dwarf cleric and the elfin thief. Instead of killing him — although there’s continual debate on that point — they opt to enlist hapless Jig as their native guide. Fortunately for them, Jig is smarter than the average goblin. In fact, in some ways, he’s smarter than the other four put together.

There are laughs and thrills, and some pointed questions along the way. Could an underground labyrinth actually function as an ecosystem? What gives those adventurers the right to come in, kill the “monsters” and steal their treasure? Is it really that easy to shoot an arrow into a giant monster’s eye? I’m sure you’ll all spot favorites from your D&D days.

But the main event is Straum, a black dragon who’s been trapped underground for more than 5,000 years. The greatest wizard in history stuck him down here to guard the Rod of Creation, and only the Rod can set him free… but Straum himself cannot use it. He has to lure in the right group of adventurers if he ever wants to be free.

This is a terrific book with an obvious love for what it lampoons. The sword fights are not handled in a grisly way, making it a safe read for all ages, though younger kids will need an adult’s help with vocabulary. Goblin Quest is highly recommended.

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Dragonbreath is a fun fantasy series for young readers, combining comic art with a fast-paced story. Sort of like Captain Underpants if the boys were a dragon and iguana.

Danny Dragonbreath is the only dragon kid in his school. He gets bullied because nobody believes in the magical world he comes from. He gets pressure from his parents to finally breathe fire. And he gets an F on his paper about ocean life. His teacher gives him one more day to re-write the assignment.

Rather than hit the library and do some research, as advised by his friend, Wendell the ignana, Danny persuades his cousin, Eddie the Sea Serpent, to take them on a tour of the Sargasso Sea. After some thrills and chills, and with a few science facts thrown in, they return to land better equipped to deal with bullies and homework. Even fire-breathing might be within Danny’s grasp.

The author doesn’t specify how old Danny and Wendell are, but the series seems aimed at the younger middle-grade spectrum. Perhaps 3rd or 4th graders. There’s a lot here for kids to like, especially reluctant readers, with the text regularly broken up by cartoon segments.

As an adult reader, I found the characters thin, especially the parents, and the plot predictable. On the other hand, I’m not the target audience. This Dragonbreath series really is a lot like Captain Underpants in that thinking too much spoils the fun.

I’d recommend this series for early readers, especially boys who struggle to find books they like. Dragonbreath is up to nine volumes now, so there’s plenty to keep kids coming back.

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Q: What is a dragon’s favorite kind of restaurant?

A: Barbecue!

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One of the joys of this blog is re-reading favorite stories — as research, you know. What I’ve be re-reading most recently is Bone, the comic series by Jeff Smith.

Bone is that rarity, a high fantasy comic book that tells a novel-length story with epic sweep and outrageous humor at the same time. It shows influences from Walt Disney, Warner Brothers, and the comic strip Pogo. The three main characters are Bones — a white-skinned, hairless race similar in appearance to Casper the Friendly Ghost, but with bigger noses. It sounds weird, I know, but it works!

Fone Bone is a good and noble soul, the opposite of venal, scheming Phoney Bone. The two of them are kept together by silly but sweet Smiley Bone. These three are cousins who have been chased out of Boneville after one of Phoney’s crazy schemes went out of control. They wander through the desert until they get separated by a swarm of malevolent locusts.

Lost and alone, Fone Bone encounters the Great Red Dragon. He’s terrified and runs from the huge beast, which calmly ambles after him. Eventually Fone Bone realizes the dragon isn’t chasing him to eat him, but instead saving him from rat creatures and other dangers. Helped by magical beings, including a tiny bug named Ted, Fone Bone makes his way to the farm of Gran’ma Ben, where he instantly falls in love with a pretty girl named Thorn.

Much to his indignation, no one believes in dragons. Except that Thorn has recurring dreams where she is sheltered by dragons in the midst of a war. And Gran’ma Ben might know more about it than she wants to let on. That’s only the beginning of a delightful and complicated tale, full of quirky characters, slapstick humor, thrills, chills and pathos.

Smith wrote and illustrated the quarterly comic, which he self-published starting in 1991. The series was well enough received that he struck a deal with Image Comics to publish issues for two years, starting in 1995. After that, Smith resumed self-publishing for the duration of the series, which ran 55 issues total and wrapped up in 2004. Later, Scholastic Books collected and colored the comics and released them as graphic novels. This is the form in which I read them.

Though the dragons aren’t always at center stage, they are a presence throughout the Bone saga. On Saturday I’ll talk more about the two main dragons, Great Red and his mother, Queen Mim.

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Before I leave the topic of animated ninjas, I have to take us to the silly side with ninjas as only Lego can envision them. This is Ninjago, Masters of Spinjitsu. I first encountered this series in the classroom, where I was helping a 3rd grader with his reading. The book of his choice, you may have guessed, was a Ninjago episode adaptation.

Ninjago is a line of Lego toys and games retro-fitted from their older ninja line and re-introduced around 2010. The TV show began airing on Cartoon Network in 2011 and is still on the air as I write this. Episodes are 10 minutes long without the commercials and feature animated Lego characters in a Japanese inspired fantasy world. Four ninjas are the sworn defenders of all that is good; they each control an elemental power and execute their most impressive powers by spinning around very fast. (They’re masters of SPINjitsu —get it?) There’s also a kid sister who wants to be taken as seriously as the boys.

And, did I mention there are dragons? Yes! Each of the four heroes rides on a dragon with elemental powers corresponding to their own. Kai, the fire ninja, rides Flame, the fire dragon. Cole, the team leader, rides Rocky, the earth dragon. Zane, the ice ninja, rides the ice dragon Shard, and Jay, the lightning ninja, rides Wisp, the electrical dragon. From the episodes I’ve seen, the dragons don’t have much personality and mainly function as vehicles for the ninja heroes. This always disappoints me a little.

If you’re familiar with Lego’s console games, you’ll have the basic tone: fast paced, with lots of puns and sight gags, layered on a fairly standard quest to fend off a supernatural evil. Although defeated characters don’t burst into Lego pieces, as I was halfway expecting. Maybe I’ve been playing too much Lego Batman 2 recently.

In addition to the Ninjago TV show, there are lego models sets (naturally, the dragons are the biggest and best), children’s books, games for hand-held and I-phone, and spinning toys that appear similar to Beyblades. Kids under 10 will enjoy this show. For adults, it’s strictly cotton candy.

If you’re interested in learning more, check out their “brickipedia” or watch a few episodes on Cartoon Network.

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Just to keep you all in the loop, I’ll be stepping back from Wyrmflight for a few days to work on my next podcast. This one will be a seven episode series, a swords & sorcery novelette called The Weight of Their Souls.

Right now I’m in the midst of the voice recording. I’m also searching for cover art and music to go with it. It’s spring break in my school district, so I have the time free to focus on the recording and mixing process.

As I go through this story, after not having looked at it for a few years, I find it’s very influenced by Andre Norton’s Witch World series, which was an early favorite of mine. So if you remember Norton fondly, as I do, I hope you’ll take a listen when the podcast is done.

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