Everybody Can Love Dragons


Earlier this week my son and I were sitting on the couch and he turned around and very deliberately asked, “Mommy, how do dragons get the princesses from their castles?”  It was clear his head was spinning in fascination – wondering how these colorful creatures spend their days and nights. He often plays with a very old wooden dragon I brought home from Vietnam. I am sure he will unearth it again when we read Susan’s next collection of books together. Here is her latest installment:

Thousands of years ago, some boy or girl probably wandered into a cave and found a T-Rex skull poking out of the ground. And while they missed out on the millions of dollars the Smithsonian would currently pay for the fossil, a legend was born.

Who, really, doesn’t like dragons? Dragons can appeal to even the most timid child. More adventurous children, of course, might admire a dragon’s ability to breathe fire and destroy an entire pirate ship. But let’s not forget the pretty, shiny scales that come in all colors of the rainbow. And if you bring up the possibility of actually riding on a dragon’s back, you’ll have even the most squeamish child begging for more.

For parents who aren’t willing to channel their inner Lord of the Rings geek, try thinking of dragons as a chance to introduce your child to different cultures – as the books below show, nearly every country seems to have produced their very own type of beast.

The Knight and the Dragon, by Tomie de Paola. Paola lets you indulge your child’s bloodthirsty desires for knights and dragons, but without the violence. A knight and a dragon learn how to fight by studying books and practicing with wooden dummies. Despite their best efforts, however, they are terrible – the knight runs into a tree, and the dragon falls in a lake. Thanks to a librarian/princess, they become friends instead. They even open a restaurant! The end isn’t too sweet, thanks to the humorous ways the knight transforms his armor into a barbeque. The story and illustrations are clear enough even for young children.

Where’s the Dragon?, written by Jason Hook, illustrated by Richard Hook. A little boy goes looking for dragons with his nearsighted Grandfather. But while the boy sees the dragons surrounding them, his Grandfather manages to miss them all, even when he walks into a dragon’s mouth. I like the way the books shows kids that grownups don’t always know everything. The illustrations are upraised, so kids can feel the scales while hunting for all the cleverly-hidden dragons. Kids also get a glimpse of a different culture, as the boy lives in a Norwegian village filled with traditional, intricately-carved woodwork.

Everyone Knows What a Dragon Looks Like, written by Jay Williams, illustrated by Mercer Mayer. When a village is threatened by horsemen, the villagers ask the dragon god for help. But an old man shows up instead, and the adults scoff. “Everybody knows what a dragon looks like,” they say. It takes a child, of course, to treat the old man with respect, and he repays the good deed by metamorphosing into a truly magnificent dragon. It’s fun to see Mercer Mayer’s familiar style combine with the truly lovely, Chinese-inspired illustrations.

Dragon World: A Pop-Up Guide to These Scaled Beasts, by Milivoj Ceran, Keith Moseley, Skip Skwarek. This pop-up book presents a tour around the world through the “natural history” of dragons, from “facts” about dragon eggs and eating habits to brief retellings of famous stories. The last page compares dragons to actual animals such as dinosaurs and cobras. The pop-ups – one per page, each dominated by a single, bright color – are stunning, but they may be a little scary for younger children.

Susan Fry is a writer and mother in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s written for Stanford Magazine, salon, the San Jose Mercury News, and many other publications.

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