Seven is a very interesting age. You’ve started reading, picking your clothes, being given responsibilities. In Not Your Typical Dragon, written by Vancouver-based Dan Bar-el, it’s also the age dragons start breathing fire. But when Crispin Blaze’s birthday cake is set in front of him, seven candles waiting to be lit, what comes out of his mouth isn’t fire but whipped cream.
Each time Crispin tries to breathe fire, he produces something different: beach balls or Band-Aids or marshmallows. The words never explicitly state that Crispin breathes out these strange things because they’re what circumstances demand, and this is the book’s brilliance. Whipped cream is his sister’s favourite.
Band-Aids are what the doctor is running low on. My son, Phoenix, who’s almost seven, recognized this even before the story’s climax, where Crispin breathes a burst of water after his dad accidentally sets the house on fire.
Bowers’s illustrations are Disneyesque with a perfect pinch of Grimm. Bar-el’s writing didn’t talk down to my kids, but didn’t confuse them either. It was amazing to see Phoenix get inside this story and figure it out for himself.
Which made me realize that he really is almost seven. I don’t have to explain everything to him any more.
Andrew Kaufman is the author of Born Weird . He apologizes to Frida for this piece being entirely about Phoenix.