When a Dragon Moves In


When a Dragon Moves In, written by Jodi Moore, illustrated by Howard McWilliam

I can usually tell when my son is making something up.  Did he brush his teeth?  Did he eat his brother’s cookie?  And did he really put away that pair of socks?

But there are times when I wish his imaginings could come true.   That’s the beauty of When a Dragon Moves In.   The book manages to show both a real world and an imaginary one, and it lets the reader choose which one to believe.

When a little boy builds a sandcastle on the beach, a dragon moves in.  Or does he?

The story is told in the second person, addressing the reader as “you,” which encourages kids to imagine they’re actually the main character:  “ . . . . you’ll wonder how you ever got so lucky.  With a dragon in your castle, you’ll have a built-in marshmallow toaster, your very own raft, and a kite that practically flies itself.”

The cartoons of the boy and dragon playing together are colorful, heartwarming, and detailed enough to be as believable as any dog-and-boy story.  Even as a grownup, I wanted to dive right into the picture of the boy floating happily through the ocean on the dragon’s stomach.

Meanwhile, the boy’s mother, father, and sister are having a more typical day out: lighting the barbeque, putting on sunblock, and sitting under an umbrella.

At first, the boy tries to hide the dragon from his family.  He conceals the dragon’s smoky breath with the family barbeque and erases the dragon’s prints on the beach.  Eventually, however, the boy breaks the news to his family.  Or, at least, he tries his best.  They are less than interested, even downright skeptical.  “Mmmm. . . .hmmm,” his mother murmurs, not even looking up from her book.

When the boy sets out to prove the dragon’s existence, the reader gets double vision:  every adventure with the dragon visually overlaps a mundane explanation.  The dragon’s breath, for example, could easily be smoke from the barbeque, and the dragon’s footprints look suspiciously like the boy’s flippers.

But when the dragon starts to misbehave, the boy gets blamed.  Who really ate his sister’s peanut butter sandwiches?  Or the family brownies?  The boy decides he’s had enough and banishes the dragon.  Luckily, just when regret sets in, the boy builds another sandcastle, and his dragon returns.  With friends.

I especially liked the warm and close relationships in the family.  Even though they may not believe the boy, father tickles him with a dragon/seagull feather, and the mother and sister want to play with him.

If only I could be so patient about my own son’s socks.

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.

You can check out the Sweet Peas & Stilettos’ children’s books page for quick access to all of Susan’s wonderful children’s book reviews.

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