Sunday, February 07, 2010

Every one knows What a Dragon Looks Like

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.


Anusha said...

a fantastic review, Satish. loved how you pointed out the way the book questions the limitations of the mind. your rendering of the dragon was quite impressive!
this story is being enacted in the local children's theater in March, can't wait to see it! but we'll definitely check out the book first..

Vibha said...

Looks like a very interesting book. As we add more and more years to our lives, we inadvertently keep conditioning our minds to a certain set of notions and beliefs. These type of books question those notions and motivate us to think beyond our self-made boundaries.

Thanks Sathish!

Poppins said...

Fantastic! And that tidbit about the book? Too sweet. That friend sounds a bit like our Chox no?

Tharini said...

Oh wow. With such a compelling arguement, I feel tempted to go looking for a bargain steal right now! Loved reading your insights. :)

sathish said...

KM, thanks. let me know how the local theatre show went. sounds very interesting.

Vibha, thanks. We are conditioned and tuned! :)

Poppins, yep. He is a great resource and a regular reader of ST - but, never comments :( .

tharini, I read a comment in amazon that said he got it for a steal and he had bought it for $25. :)

Choxbox said...

Sathish, sounds very interesting. True - some treasures can be got when minde out. And, kindly introduce me to this friend of yours :)

@Poppy: Where do you want the treat?! ;)

Sheela said...

Awesome review, Satish - so true how the adult mind refuses to deviate from its perception of reality and embrace the unprecedented.

And Dragons! You can't go wrong with dragons in our household - all of us are awed by this creature and can't get enough...

Poppy said...

Fab review Satish. Want to know, if you did those other sketches yourself or are they scanned from the book?

sathish said...

sheela, thanks :). it is surprise that indian myths donot have dragons (they instead seem to have nagas/snakes). wonder why?

Poppy - thanks. I did a quick sketch of them for kids from the book.

Praba Ram said...

Fabulous! The bias formation based on pre-conceived notions, yes totally agree!

You know every time I shelve a dragon book at the school library, brings a smile to my face, thinking of the two dragon lovers on ST!

Ice Dragon by George R Martin, one that caught my attention today...that one of the kids had brought back. Also, checked out for myself one by Graeme Base - Discovering Dragons - focuses on the dragons of Europe, Asiatic and Tropical! Quite an amazing book!! :)

Thanks for bringing such "fantastic" books to ST!

utbtkids said...

We read this book yesterday Satish.

Having celebrated the Lunar New year, watching a dragon dance and having done numerous dragon drawings in the past month, the girls absolutely refused to believe in anything other than the image that is being fed to them :(

When I asked them if they have seen a dragon, they firmly said, 'Yes. We saw the dragon dance. Remember?'

We had to agree to disagree and concluded that help comes in different forms and we must be willing to accept it.

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