Arthur Howard, . . Harcourt, $16 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-15-202664-6

King Olaf and Queen Olive take life very seriously. But their young and inappropriately named son Ernest is quite another story. He is wont to swing on the chandelier, use a shield to skateboard down the banister, and dreams of being a jester when he grows up. Howard (Hoodwinked ) opens his waggish story with a hilarious portrait of the royal family—he applies his exuberant marker line to the squat king's scowl and the lean Queen's long, dour visage (she's looking up from reading Extra Grimm Fairy Tales ), while Ernest grins irrepressibly at readers. The drama unfolds when Ernest accidentally runs up against the comically lurid, three-headed dragon that's been menacing the kingdom—a beast so contentious that it can't even decide "what to call itself: Me, Us, or Hey You!" The aspiring jester strikes an agreement: the dragon will let the prince go if he can make the monster laugh. But Ernest's funny faces and flips go over like a lead balloon—until he triumphs with the oldest jest of all: tickling. The author falters when he tries to wrap up the story with three different endings (in one, Ernest is a convert to the importance of being earnest; in the other two, Ernest becomes a great entertainer). The ploy overextends the punchline, and the alternatives do not display the wit of the previous pages. But the drawings exude so much energy and glee that readers will cheer Ernest's victory, whatever form it takes. Ages 3-7. (Oct.)