Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon (Dial Books, 2014) perfectly captures the thought process and imagination exaggeration of a super creative first grader. With a mix of text and comical illustrations, Hanlon puts together a fantasmagory (“a shifting melody of real or imagined characters”) of any imaginary play time. My very imaginative eight-year-old loved the mix between real and imaginary, from Dory’s scary “Mrs. Gobble Cracker” and imaginary monster friend Mary to her leprechaun-ish “fairy godmother” Mr. Nubby.
Dory desires to be like her big brother and sister, but they push her off as too babyish and try to sabotage her imagination playtime with scary stories. Somehow, their plans always backfire as Dory takes their scary characters and mixes them into fabric of her imaginary friends, as did Mrs. Gobble Cracker in the first book in the series. Further, Dory, who is called “Rascal” by her family, also must navigate the real world in school, which becomes difficult when even there she cannot realize the differences between real and fiction.
In the second book, Dory Fantasmagory: The Real True Friend, Dory just wants to be best friends with the new girl, who claims she is a princess. It eventually takes being herself to find common ground with Rosabelle. In some respects I appreciated the second book even more than the first, since the merger between real and imagined was so blended even I couldn’t tell the difference. Neither could Dory’s brother and sister. Once Rosabelle was shown to be real, their mouths drop open in the perfectly placed illustration.
In both books, the dialogue is convincing, and the parent reader can only laugh at the exaggerated trouble Dory causes. While the books are still too challenging for my daughter to read independently, I’m sure she’ll revisit this series (and perhaps finish it herself!) when she is able to do so. The Dory Fantasmagory series, with the blend of easily accessible text and incorporated illustrations, is a fantastic early chapter book start for a young, newly independent reader.