Boy ‘couldn’t hear, but he was happy.’ His country’s king and army have done their best to destroy a dragon and the protracted battle has reduced their environment so that it is almost uninhabitable until Boy asks, ‘Why?’
The setting and back story are rendered in full on the book’s cover. The front cover shows a boy standing in a landscape suffused with the pinky orange of a post-fire sunset, with the burnt twigs of what were once trees. The boy’s expression is confidently winsome, contrasting his battle dress, and he has written his name with a stick. The back cover shows the castle and a hamlet built close to the walls of the castle, and with a few living trees in the foreground. On a turret, the figure of a king stands under a flagpole pointing to the wasteland.
Despite these clues to simmering violence, DeVries’ digital artwork keeps all of the characters as child-like, round and pink-cheeked. His dragon is an overgrown puppy fighting an army of chessmen. Boy’s Auslan – literally misunderstood by all but his loving parents – is drawn as soft lines while CLING! CLONG! TING! are printed above the bloodless scenes of hand-to-hand combat. Boy risks his life to save a baby dragon, with the aid of his trusty helmet. His Auslan sign for Why? can’t be interpreted so he takes up his stick to write, ‘WHY ARE YOU FIGHTING?’
The king and the dragon both attempt to justify their actions with hand gestures of their own – pointing, accusing and finally listening to each other’s truths. They all gather round to look at Boy’s drawings of how they could live (unfortunately not completely visible to the reader). All the villagers sign ‘Thank you’ at the end of the story.
Another story of a peace-loving dragon is ‘The Reluctant Dragon’ (Walker Books, 2005) by Kenneth Grahame. First published as a chapter in his book ‘Dream Days’, it has also been illustrated as a picture book for older readers by Australian illustrator Inga Moore.