________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 15. . . .December 11, 2015


If I Had a Gryphon.

Vikki VanSickle. Illustrated by Cale Atkinson.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2016.
32 pp., hardcover & epub, $19.99 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-77049-809-9 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-77049-811-2 (epub).

Preschool-grade 2 / Ages 3-7.

Review by Meredith Cleversey.

**** /4



Last week I got a hamster.
My first and only pet.
He mostly eats and sleeps and hides.
And gets his shavings wet.

If only I could have a pet
With strange, exotic powers,
I know that Iíd find lots to do
To while away the hours.


Sam thinks her new hamster is boring. Sheís convinced a magical pet like a gryphon or a hippogriff would be much more enjoyable, that is, until she starts to imagine what her new fantastic pet would be like. Every creature has its own problems, and, after considering the scratches, burns, and bruises she would encounter if she were responsible for taming a mythic beast, Sam comes to realize that a small, quiet hamster is exactly the sort of pet she needs.

     If I Had a Gryphon, written by Vikki VanSickle and illustrated by Cale Atkinson, is a wonderfully creative story about the ups and downs of having a mythical creature as a household pet. Sam wants something more exciting for a pet than a hamster that only ever eats, sleeps, and gets his shavings wet. Something that could fly, live underwater, or even breathe fire would make an excellent companion...or would it? With each new pet she imagines, Sam also finds herself wondering what kind of havoc these unconventional creatures would wreak. Itís hard to keep the furniture safe from a fire breathing dragon, after all.

     If I Had a Gryphon is a really entertaining book. The rhythm of the rhyming text flows nicely, and the subject matter is hilarious. Many children would choose to have a pet gryphon over a pet hamster, making Samís dilemma quite relatable. But as Sam soon finds out, mythical beasts have their problems, too. Readers will love seeing how each of Samís potential pets reacts to life in our world, and they might be surprised to discover just how nice a small, plain hamster ultimately seems. In this way, the end of the story is a delightful surprise. While itís fairly easy to guess that Sam will make do with her ordinary pet in the end, readers will be amused to realize just how nice an ordinary pet can seem, even after itís been compared to impressive creatures like a unicorn and a hippogriff. Of course, thereís an extra bit of fun thrown in on the last page, hinting that Samís innocent, boring hamster might actually be more extraordinary than she first believed.

     The range of creatures covered in this book makes this a great choice for fantasy lovers. In addition to the more well known creatures, like the dragon and the unicorn, Sam also contemplates having a pet kirin, manticore, and harpy, among others. Thereís no shortage of imagination in this tale, and readers will have a ton of fun learning about the creatures as they watch Sam try to deal with their out of this world behaviour.

     Cale Atkinsonís illustrations add an additional level of creativity and adventure to this story. The cartoonish expressions of Sam and her pets are adorable and often comical as well. Even when the text is vague, the illustrations highlight not only what Sam is experiencing, but also how the experience makes her feel. For example, when Sam dismisses the idea of having a pet mermaid because mermaids like to brush their hair all day, the illustration shows Sam slumped over the side of a bathtub, bubbles on her head and a disgruntled expression on her face as, on either side of her, two content mermaids hold combs to their hair. The illustrations are full of texture, colour, action, and emotion, capturing both the silliness of the story as well as the striking beauty of the creatures being described. A perfect match for the fantastical and fun tale being told.

     Vikki VanSickleís first picture book is an outstanding success. The humorous storyline, the strong rhyming scheme, and the bold illustrations by Cale Atkinson make If I Had a Gryphon a marvellous addition to the picture book genre. Sure to be a favourite among fantasy fans and those contemplating what their perfect pet might beómythical or otherwise!

Highly Recommended.

Meredith Cleversey is a librarian in Cambridge, ON. She loves to read, write, and live in a world of pure imagination.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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