Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Celebration of Dragons in Children's Literature

Dragons: Legendary, Winged, Serpentine, Fire-breathing, Powerful; Greedy, Vicious, Wise, Withdrawn; Slain.

"In a world where it seems everything has been researched and cataloged thoroughly, the dragon remains freshly elusive." - Dragons, Fearsome Monsters From Myth & Fiction, Scholastic Publication.

Be it the Asian line of majestic and revered creatures or the European line of fearsome and vengeful ones, dragons seem to have permeated cultures and literature throughout history.

As we tried to get our fill of the dragon stories, the resident dragonophile inspired me to ask my fellow Saffron Tree contributors for their favorites. As usual, they had a wide selection to share which is presented here in no special order, except to showcase the books for younger readers first and progressively move on to books for older readers.

There are so many more wonderful books that we'll possibly do a Part Two post down the road. So without further ado, here is the start of a modest celebration of dragons in children's literature.

From Arundhati:

By Emily Gravett
Publisher- Macmillan Children's Books
Ages 3+

Do you have a little dragon at home that asks for a book to be read again and again at bedtime? Even when you are exhausted and nodding off? Yes? Then this is a story your little dragon, and you, will relate to. The illustrations are ebullient and expressive - Emily Gravett does it again!

The story starts right from the cover. Cedric, the little dragon, is ready for bed with a book. The book within the book is wonderful too – with rhyme that bounces merrily along, it is a story about a dragon just like Cedric, of princesses and trolls, towers and bridges, pies and crumbles. On each subsequent telling, Big dragon's story gets shorter and more subdued. Little dragon gets redder and more furious! Big dragon finally dozes off, and what are we left with? A hole burnt through the book!

A book that is sure to be read again and again... and again!

[Image source]

From The Mad Momma:

The Laughing Dragon
by Kenneth Mahood
Publisher Charles Scribner's Sons

The Laughing Dragon is a book from my childhood, one I passed on with a lot of reluctance. It was in mint condition and the illustrations as fresh as the day I'd laid eyes on it. It's set in Japan and begins on
the Emperor's breakfast table, to be precise.

As he is about to crack open his egg, it crackles and out pops a smiling dragon. Smiling dragons are a good thing, one would imagine, if one  wasn't aware that each time a dragon laughs, he sends flames in all directions, his fiery breath singeing people around him.

They give him anti-laughing pills, they douse the flames with hundreds of buckets of water but then one day the palace catches fire and with a heavy heart the Emperor has to ask him to leave. What happens next? Find out when you read this lovely tale that teaches you to harness talent and use it well.

[Image source:]

Farmer Giles of Ham
by J.R.R. Tolkien
illustrated by Pauline Diana Baynes
Publisher – Ballantine Books
Age group – 9+

This is one of the lesser known works of Tolkien. Farmer Giles is a fat red-bearded man who becomes an accidental hero when he unwittingly  chases away a giant. The giant goes back home and spread the word that the Middle Kingdom is a piece of cake, in turn encouraging a dragon to go verify this claim.

Farmer Giles has by this time, been rewarded by the King and presented with a sword. When the dragon returns, they turn to the fearless (not!) Farmer Giles and ask him to protect them once again. As it happens, the dragon is a bit of a lily-livered creature and things just fall into place for the farmer.

Written originally for children, and later revised, this work shows Tolkien's growth as a writer. Although the turns of phrase and the wry wit are lost on a younger reader, they're sure to enjoy the tale of the outwitting of a cowardly dragon.

[Image source:]

From Artnavy:

Encyclopedia Mythologica: Dragons and Monsters Pop-Up
Matthew Reinhartand Robert Sabuda  (Co Authors & Illustrators)

Ideal for ages- 6 and above given the complexity of handling the pages and the scariness quotient

Dragons and monsters literally spring out of this tome, in all their menacing glory.

The masters of paper engineering delight both lovers of dragons and pop-up books with this offering. The intricate details and vivid colours really pop out.  The legends cut across cultures and have space for Eastern and Western dragons. So you will see a wyvern raised by Maud, an English girl, French gargoyles, a Lotan from Syria, Tiamot from Iraq, the Fuku Riu of Japan and so on. The most intriguing of them, for my seven year old, is the Chinese dragon with an unfolding crepe paper body. A dragon roll of honour!

[Image source:]

From Sandhya:

How To Train Your Dragon
Written and Illustrated by Cressida Cowell
Published by Hodder Children's
Books. Age 8+

This is the first book of a series of 9 books. It is a hilariously illustrated and annotated book about Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third, a boy from the Hairy Hooligan tribe of Vikings from ‘the wild and windy isle of Berk', and his account of how he caught and trained his dragon in order to become a Viking hero.
With a storyline like that, this book was a winner all the way.

And this book is just the beginning of the fun. All of the books in the series are equally hilarious and entertaining, and provide a child with plenty of adventures to imagine and dream about.

[image source:]

by Carole Wilkinson
Published by Black Dog books, an imprint of Walker books.
Age 10+

She is a slave girl who does not even know her name. Working for the dragonkeeper, she realises that there is more to her past than she had ever thought of. While helping the dragon Danzi escape the evil dragonkeeper - who, it turns out, is not the real dragonkeeper after all - she finds herself on the run across the country, to protect the mysterious dragon stone. It is an adventure that leads Danzi and Ping (as that is the name revealed to her) all the way to the new boy Emperor. Empowered by her position as the real Dragonkeeper and befriended by the Emperor, she accompanies him  to Tai Shan, a sacred mountain to the top of which no one but those of royal blood could go.

What happens next? Does she fulfil her destiny? What about Danzi? Who is he, and what is in his past? What is the importance of the dragon stone, so important that enemy forces are willing to kill indiscriminately to get their hands on it?

Australian writer Carole Wilkinson's award winning book is a fairy tale set in ancient China, during the Han Dynasty, rich with historical and cultural references. The book has a prequel, Dragon Dawn, and sequels: Garden of the Purple Dragon, Dragon Moon and Blood Brothers. They all promise to be wonderful reads, if this first book in the series is anything to go by.

[image source: Carole Wilkinson's website]

The Dragon Companion, An Encyclopedia
by Carole Wilkinson
illustrated by Dean Thomas

Published by black dog books, an imprint of Walker books. Age 10+

Legends about Dragons abound in many parts of the world, notably Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

This book begins with a timeline of such dragon stories, (complete with maps) the first ones as far back as in 2000 BCE in a Mesopotamian creation story, and the more contemporary ones as in JRR Tolkien's books, JK Rowling's Harry Potter books, the Inheritance series by Christopher Paolini, Cornelia Funke's Dragon Rider, the Pern Series by Anne McCaffrey, and Carole Wilkinson's own Dragonkeeper series.

The book then takes the reader on a breath-taking journey of all things Dragon, in an alphabetical order, for easy reference. There are key words highlighted in gold, which means that there is a more detailed entry of those words that can be cross-referenced. There are also details of the fairly unknown mythologies and folk / fairy tales from which the better known stories are derived.

I remember trying to look up the different types of dragons that the champions have to fight in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Now I can.

[image source: Carole Wilkinson website]

From me:

The Complete Book of Dragons (Ologies series)
by Ernest Drake/Dugald Steer
Ages 6+

"Faux Nonfiction" or "Mock Nonfiction" volumes (terms I just learned) are becoming quite the trend these days.

Believe in dragons. I think that is what matters for this book to resonate with the reader.

All the little flaps and envelopes and notes and dragon scales and little novelties are quite the rage now. Just as in Encyclopedia Mythologica, the kid loves the fold-outs and mini booklets and such. The sample dragon dust and wing membrane; the Dragon Script; the Riddles & Puzzles all add to the whole dragon experience.

Of particular fascination is the Useful Spells & Charms Section. First spell the kid wants to try: Hong Wei Invisibility Spell. Of course, as of now, we are missing a few key ingredients to make the spell work, but, anything can happen...

Dragon Script is soon becoming the encryption code of choice, thanks to this book.

[inside Dragonology at]
[cover image source: wikipedia]

The Book of Dragons (Looking Glass Library)
by E.Nesbit
ilustrations by H.R. Millar
foreword by Ruth Stiles Gannett (of My Father's Dragon)
Ages 8+

We got introduced to E.Nesbit after we read Edward Eager's Half Magic reviewed for Saffron Tree. Originally published in 1901, The Book of Dragons is a set of eight stories by Edith Nesbit featuring dragons of all sorts, as the title suggests.

Though imaginative and wondrous, some stories are quite tame and funny while others are rather fierce and scary. Almost all of them involve some kind of adventure, either warm and fuzzy and fun or arduous and perilous and overwhelming. Uncle James, or The Purple Stranger was a top favorite, followed by The Island of the Nine Whirlpools and Ice Dragon, or Do As You Are Told.

Thanks to Project Gutenberg, the book is available via their Online Reader.

[image source:]

Fearsome Monsters from Myth and Fiction
A Scholastic book
Ages 8+

Awesome illustrations in a double-page spread, with concise information about various mythological dragons from around the world, makes this a fascinating book for the young dragon-lover.

From Krak's Dragon in Poland to Orochi in Japan, Wyvern in England to Futs-Lung in China, Hatuibwari in the Solomon Islands to Ladon in the Canary Islands... each dragon is introduced to us with precise description about how to identify them - head/neck/claws/tail/wings/color, along with their history/legend and other tidbits. Even the (in)famous Hungarian Horntail (from Harry Potter), Smaug from The Hobbit, and St.George's dragon are featured in this book.

The text is simple enough, with a large full color illustration of each beast, plus an inset map of where in the world it was, and a small illustration to show its relative size compared to Man.

Note: The images can be disturbing for the very young who are uninitiated in the dragon lore.

[image source: scholastic]

The Kingfisher Treasury of Dragon Stories 
chosen by Margaret Clark
Ages 7+

This is a collection stories featuring dragons. The first one is the wonderful story by Jay Williams Everyone Knows What a Dragon Looks Like (reviewed at ST). There is also the story of Saint George and the Dragon retold by Margaret Clark, Constantes and the Dragon retold by Virginia Haviland, The Dragon on the Roof by Terry Jones, among others. Some are the usual situations where kids encounter dragons and are solely privy to its existence and some feature pragmatic no-nonsense characters as in Irritating Irma by Robin Klein and Georgie-Anna and the Dragon by Judy Corbalis...

[image source:]

Dealing with Dragons
Book One of The Enchanted Forest Chronicles series
by Patricia C. Wrede
Ages 9+

We've read just this first book in the series which seems promising.

Princess Cimorene is not the usual princess. She does not enjoy learning diplomacy and embroidery and dancing and etiquette. And, she refuses to accept a political arrangement that is to be her marriage.

She appeals to her parents. She appeals to the prince she is supposed to live happily ever after with if her parents could have their way. When all else fails, she takes the advice of a talking frog and seeks a dragon to be the princess of.

Every one knows dragons keep their own princesses (until a knight comes to slay the dragon and rescue the princess, that is.) In the process, we learn a lot about dragons - the wise ones, the impetuous ones,the crafty ones and the practical ones, and we learn about the wily wizards who drain the dragon magic and the meddling witches who try to be helpful...

[image source: wikipedia]

Another dragon book previously reviewed here: Beast Quest: Ferno, the Fire Dragon


ranjani.sathish said...

Sheela, wonderful effort in compiling so many books on dragons ! Dragonophiles are just going to love this post :-)). The Dragon keeper seems like a very different kind of book on dragons....want to check this out for myself ! I am sure the kids will love all these other books reviewed here. Thanks Sheela, Arundhati, MM, Art and Sandhya for your contribution.

Mia said...

The Lost Olympian by Rick Riordan ... Festes the bronze dragon.

Marjorie said...

What a wonderful, eclectic collection of dragon books! I'm just coming to the end of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy with Little Brother - we should definitely look out Farmer Giles...

tutudutta said...

I love stories about dragons and <3 this post. I would also like to draw your attention to my book 'Eight Treasures of the Dragon' published by MPH Publishing (a Malaysian outfit) in 2011. With black & white illustrations by Vay Fern Tan, the book retells dragon folklore from Asia, with special emphasis on South-East Asia. my blog has a post by Alan Wong, about the book.

the mad momma said...

So interesting how dragons hold our imagination. I must try and find the other reccos too. Thanks Sheels for putting this together.

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