Dragons star in many of the best stories! They can really jazz up life. Here are 5 books starring dragons, though each dragon looks and acts according to his own dragon-ly style. I’ve put the books in order from longest to shortest. There is something for everyone here!
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin, is a 2010 Newbery Honor Book. It has a Chinese-Wizard-of-Oz feel to it, steeped in Jasmine-Scented Fairy-Tale Tea. The story is about a young girl named Minli, who lives with her parents in poverty in the bleak landscape of Fruitless Mountain. Minli learns that the Old Man of the Moon is the only one who can change her family’s fortune, and that of her whole village, and so she sets off in secret to find him. At the outset of her journey she meets a dragon who is “brilliant red, the color of a lucky lantern, with emerald-green whiskers, horns, and a dull stone-colored ball like the moon on his head.” This dragon becomes her traveling companion, hoping to be granted the ability to fly from the same Old Man of the Moon. The two of them meet many interesting characters during their adventures, and both Minli and her parents learn a great deal about what it means to have truly good fortune. In addition, Minli hears a number of ancient Chinese folktales from various people which are cleverly interwoven into the story’s plot.
This story unfolds slowly, with a sweet beauty that will not be rushed, and a poetic style of prose. This is not a book for those who want heart-thumping adventure starting with paragraph one, yet for those who are patient enough to let the layers of plot gradually reveal themselves, it is, in its entirety, a very nice story. The author illustrated the book with a number of gorgeous full-color pictures, and many smaller line-drawings and decorations. The jacket is a work of art, the fonts are well-chosen, and even the paper it is printed on is creamy and lovely. It seems suited for a young-ish audience, although it is almost 300 pages. I would choose it for 6 -10 year olds, and with its young girl protagonist, I do think it will appeal more to girls than young boys.
My Father’s Dragon, by Ruth Stiles Gannett, is another Newbery Honor Book, but from 1949! It’s an active tale, never sitting still for long, cramming its short 85 pages with mysterious islands, treacherous tigers, and scads of other wild, threatening jungle creatures. It is the story of a boy who sets out to rescue a baby dragon from miserable captivity by the brutish beasts of Wild Island. This dragon has “a long tail and yellow and blue stripes. His horn and eyes and the bottoms of his feet are bright red, and he has gold-colored wings.” (Aren’t dragons wonderful?!) Our heroic boy cleverly and carefully packs his knapsack with items such as chewing gum, two dozen pink lollipops and a very sharp jackknife, stows away on a ship, and with courage and sneaky, clever ideas, winds up fulfilling his rescue mission.
This is a perfect book for those just starting to listen to chapter books. It is illustrated wonderfully by the author’s stepmother, Ruth Chrisman Gannett, it moves right along, and is full of ingredients kids love. In addition, it is the first book in a dragon trilogy. The sequels are Elmer and the Dragon and The Dragons of Blueland. We have read this through several times in our family, and all agree that it’s one of the best.
The Reluctant Dragon, by Kenneth Grahame, is actually a chapter from a book he wrote in 1898! Kenneth Grahame is best known to us as the author of Wind in the Willows, but his dragon tale is also well-loved and has been published as a separate book since the 1930s. This dragon is as big as four cart-horses and covered with beautiful blue scales, but his appearance is less to the point than his personality. He is a lazy, poetry-loving dragon, who retired to a cave to get away from all the earnest dragons forever “rampaging, and skirmishing, and scouring the desert sands, and pacing the margin of the sea, and chasing knights all over the place, and devouring damsels, and going on generally.” Unhappily, this dragon is challenged to a fight by St. George, who has been told all sorts of wild tales about its ferocity. Our hero, a wise, young local boy, manages to save the dragon’s life, preserve St. George’s reputation, and still provide the village with the jolly fight they are hoping for.
This is a short story, though as is true of Grahame’s work, it does not talk down in any way to children and is filled with challenging vocabulary. Don’t let that put you off. If you read it with aplomb, the story will carry itself right through the tricky words. It has been illustrated by none other than Ernest H. Shepard of Winnie-the-Pooh fame, as well as many, many other illustrators.
Bearskin, by Howard Pyle, is another story which appears originally as one chapter in a book — The Wonder Clock written by Pyle in 1887. It was published separately in 1997 as a picture book, magnificently illustrated by the incredibly-talented Trina Schart Hyman. Pyle was a master storyteller, and this is a wonderful story of a boy, abandoned by a devious father, raised by a bear in the forest whose milk made him very, very strong, as bear’s milk will do. As a young man, Bearskin hears about a dire situation in which a great fiery dragon with three heads has threatened to lay waste all the land unless a beautiful princess is given to him. And, yes, the king has promised that if anyone can kill this dragon he can have the princess for his wife. Well. Bearskin easily dispatches this dragon, but a conniving steward of the king takes the credit for it and takes the princess. How Bearskin very, very cleverly outwits the steward and claims the princess for his own is for you to find out when you read the book.
The Flying Dragon Room, by Audrey Wood, is a just-for-fun, crazy tale about a boy named Patrick who receives some unusual tools from an unusual lady named Mrs. Jenkins. Since he is supposed to stay out of his parents’ hair while they paint the house, Mrs. Jenkins advises him to see what he can come up with on his own, and what he comes up with is an extraordinary, outrageous, wonder-filled set of rooms fit to delight a kid from head to pinky toe. Mark Teague is the illustrator, and his work is colorful, fanciful, good stuff that brings the story to life. Once you see his work, you will want to search out other books he’s illustrated, as we have.