If I Had a Gryphon – Vikki VanSickle, illustrated by Cale Atkinson
Sam is already bored of her new pet, a rather sedate hamster. Inspired by her book of mythological creatures, Sam longs for a more exciting pet. But she soon realizes that taking care of these magical beasts might not be as wonderful as she thought. Unicorns are shy, gryphons scare the dogs at the dogpark, and having a fire extinguisher handy at all times makes dragons seem like an awful lot of work. In the end, Sam realizes that her hamster is a pretty sweet and safe pet … or is he?
If I Had a Gryphon is a raucous rhyming read-aloud about fantastical beasts in everyday situations–and the increasingly beleaguered heroine who has to deal with them. The perfect primer on mythological and fantastic beasts for young kids not quite ready for Harry Potter!
Release Date: February 9th, 2016
I don’t think I’ve reviewed a picture book on this blog before and honestly, I don’t know why. I love picture books! I have a whole shelf dedicated to them, and most of those books are from the past couple of years, nevermind the amount I collected during my actual childhood.
So, I think it’s about time I started talking about the wonders that can be found in picture books, and what better book to start with than the superb If I Had a Gryphon.
With sweet rhyming prose and an easy, bouncy rhythm, the story follows Sam as she tries to decide what kind of mythical animal she would most like to have – anything but a boring old hamster. I read it to my three nieces (aged 3-9) and we had fun talking about the different creatures and which ones we would personally like to own (I think I settled on unicorn), so it would be a great discussion starter at home or in the classroom.
Not only does Sam list the usual suspects (what you would normally think of when you think “mythic”) such as unicorns and dragons, but she also mentions kirins and jackalopes and basilisks and many more. I’ve heard people say this is the book you give to a child who is too young for Harry Potter and I couldn’t agree more.
Side note: around the time I received my copy, I was also reading Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and I could not get this precious image of a kirin out of my head.
I might be a little biased because our intrepid heroine may or may not be named after me (she totally is – read more to find out why), but how flippin’ cute are these illustrations?? Cale Atkinson, who released his debut picture book, To the Sea, this past year, is an up-and-coming illustrator from BC who has already done work for different animation studios and publishers. His characters are precious, from the round-faced Sam to the majestic titular gryphon and all the creatures in between, and they make the words come alive. I was interning at Tundra when the artwork first came in and it’s actually uncanny how much Sam looks like a cartoon version of me, even though I’ve never met Cale – and so, she was named. For your enjoyment, here is a photo of me dressed as my picture book doppleganger:
I’m lucky enough to know Vikki in real life, and it’s a good thing I love her first picture book otherwise it would be awkward if we ran into each other (I’ve yet to read any of her novels, but since one is referred to as a middle grade version of Dirty Dancing, I don’t see how I could NOT love them). She is a lovely person and is totally living my dream (children’s book marketer by day, children’s book author by night), and if anyone deserves to have a bestselling picture book (and mermaid-like hair), it’s her. It’s hard to pick the right words when you’re writing a rhyming sequence, but Vikki (with the help of her editor, the awesome Sam Swenson) does a fantastic job, making it look effortless and employing some whimsical words and images along the way, such as tinkling unicorn horseshoes and sasquatches with “burly, curly fur”. If you’ve ever wished for an exciting pet or would have cursed someone to be in Hagrid’s Care of Magical Creatures class, this book is for you.
Plus the amount of detail is incredible, as I’ve come to expect from all Tundra picture books (photos from my phone don’t do the illustrations justice). If you have a physical copy, remove the dust jacket for a magical surprise!