by Terry John Barto
TJB Kids

"Don't you want your children to grow up in a world where they're allowed to follow their dreams?"

Nickerbacher, the friendly dragon who guards Princess Gwendolyn, wants to be a comedian. Encouraged by his friends—Prince Happenstance and Princess Gwendolyn—he auditions for The Late Knight Show in La La Land. When the audience loves him, he proves to his father—and everyone else—that dragons can be funny and harmless.

Barto crafts a delightful story about following your dreams. Using the adorable dragon's journey—from telling bad jokes to speaking humorous truths—Barto captures the ambition and the determination to fulfill it, while daring to be different. As parental pressure portrayed through Nickerbacher's father threatens Nickerbacher's confidence, motivation comes through true friend Gwendolyn, the hilariously awkward Prince Happenstance, Coach Argyle, the leprechaun, and Nickerbacher's mother.

The charming illustrations by Kim Sponaugle enhance the innocent and comical aspects of the plot, inviting readers into a world inhabited by giants, trolls, pixies, unicorns, and elves. Simple language and relatable situations beautifully convey that in life, it takes courage to stand up to prejudices and obstacles. Though there are some mild echoes of Enid Blyton and Lewis Carroll in the narration, the soul of the story is original in its attempts to depict complicated truths in a casual, childlike way.

While Barto's timing of dialogues is perfect enough to evoke laughter, he cleverly upturns many conventional fairy tale themes in the story. These include a nervous prince, a feisty princess (who wears pajamas), a wise phoenix, and a Sphinx with a street stall. His decisions to stand up to his overbearing father and to promote a bias-free world make Nickerbacher an endearing symbol of inspiration and optimism for all children and adults who want to overcome fears and live their dreams. A light-hearted, visually delicious tale that promises a bear hug every time it's read.

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