Written by Jay Williams
Illustrated by Mercer Mayer
Ages: 4+Do you think you know how a dragon looks like? Are you sure? I was always sure about it - long sinuous body, fiery eyes, blood curdling sound, a long tail, gnashing teeth and scary! But, this book made me re-think; now, I am not so sure.
The city of Wu is on the borders of China. If you cross it, one would be in the great plains of Wild Horsemen. The city of Wu is the last bastion of China and also the first city that could get attacked if the Wild Horsemen decide to do so. In this city lived a poor orphan kid called Han, the gate-sweeper of the city. He was always cheerful and lived near the gates of the cities in a small hut.
One day a messenger races into the city to inform to the mandarin, the leader of the Merchants, Captain of the Army and other wise men of the town about the imminent danger to their city. The wild Horsemen are planning a war with China and city of Wu was their first target. The wise men of the city decide to pray to the Great Cloud dragon for help.
Every one prays and the next day an old man with a staff claiming to be the cloud dragon arrives at the city gates. Han, the gate-sweeper receives him initially with skepticism, but warms up to the idea that this old man could be the dragon and takes him to meet the elders of the city. Every one rolls in laughter and makes fun of the old man. The rest of the story deals with how one boy's open-mindedness saves the city of Wu.
It is an amazing story on how we are enemies of our mind - our preconceived notions. As adults, our minds are made up of various ideas and rarely are we prepared to question them. Every argument against our ideas are challenged and most of us refuse to accept some thing that is different and at odds with our belief system.
Whenever we say the word dragon - our first instinct and our mind thinks of the same image that we have been fed for years now. Can you imagine a dragon that does not breathe fire or does not have wings or cannot fly? Our myths are already imagined and refuse to be pushed aside. The author Jay Williams uses the allegory of a simple dragon to question our thought process. Why are we not ready to embrace something that is new or different from our assumptions?
An extremely important lesson for parents and children. This book is not only a great book that can be used for some interesting discussions with our kids; it is also an extremely fun book. Sooraj, Shraddha and I rolled in laughter when the old man stepped in as a dragon. We found it very funny, but slowly it dawned on us that the story is not that simple.
Published first in 1976, the book sells at Amazon through some external retailers for a minimum of $83. Amazing, isn't it? One of my friends found it in Bangalore Book Exhibition for Rs. 25/- and I've been trying hard to make him forget the fact that I had borrowed the book from him! He has this great ability of finding interesting books at lowest possible prices. I would have passed the same shop a few minutes earlier and left without a second look. He would walk by the same book store and pick some 20 odd books for Rs. 500/- all together and each one of them a gem.
Do look out for the book in a second hand book shop. If you find it, pick it up immediately and rush before you lose it. You will not regret buying this book.