What were your favorite dragon books when you were growing up?
When my kids asked me this question, I was stumped. I’ve been reading about one hundred books a year ever since I remember, but I couldn’t remember reading one single book about dragons.
After I pondered it for a bit, I came to the conclusion that there was something about the unrealistic world of fantasy books that always rubbed me the wrong way. I was six when I read The Wizard of Oz and that was the closest I came to reading fantasy. I had absolutely no patience for the world where you click your heels and go home. What was the use of magic shoes, dragons, and hobbits in my real life?
So, if it wasn’t for my children, I wouldn’t have discovered that dragon tales can be hugely entertaining. And educational! When I started reading the first dragon book aloud to my kids I had no idea I would get hooked. All the same elements that made Anna Karenina and In Search of Lost Time worth reading could turn a dragon book into an enlightening adventure. Plot, pacing, characters, conflict, action, imagery, tone, surprise…at times I was not sure who enjoyed the reading more: my kids or me.
This must be one of the best books I’ve read, I thought as I devoured page after page of The Dragon Rider (although “devour” is a relative term when you read out loud to your kids). When “our” team won, I cried the real tears of joy. Together with my kids, we read How to Train your Dragon and Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. ‘Aren’t there more dragon stories?’ asked my kids.
I tried to find a list of dragon stories appropriate for the 5-8-year-old crowd (and their parents) but didn’t find anything that didn’t mix in adult and teenage level books. I searched some more. I polled friends. I asked librarians. It took time. So, if you have little dragon lovers, I want to save you some time and share our best discoveries.
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Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke
Lots of action, dynamic dialogs and lovable characters all add to form a fantastic five-hundred-page read. This is one of my favorite children’s novels because it is a pleasure to read out loud and a delight to discuss. We ended up spending long hours talking about the price of cowardice, good choices and bad choices, friendship and sacrifice, loyalty and persistence, and about the power of self-motivation.
Whenever I got too hoarse to read aloud, we switched to the audiobook (expertly read by Brendan Fraser). The first few chapters lay out the background and might seem a bit slow, but don’t let it stop you. Once a silver dragon named Firedrake, and his cheeky little friend Sorrel, set out to look for the Rim of Heaven the epic journey begins. On the way, they meet a human boy, Ben, and have exciting adventures with unexpected twists and turns every step of the way.
There are quite a few sit-on-the-edge-of-the-chair confrontations with the seemingly unstoppable antagonist, a golden dragon named Nettlebrand and his sidekicks. I can’t count the number of times we held our breath, laughed like crazy and said things like, “I can’t believe it!” The book is recommended for 8+ but it’s been my 5-year old’s favorite book ever since we read it.
My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett
My 8-year old described this book as “amazing.” I asked him if that was because the book is about dragons and he said, “No, because it’s so funny!” It is definitely quirky. I cannot recall another book where a protagonist rescues a baby dragon with the help of two dozen pink lollipops, rubber bands, chewing gum, and magnifying glass, and what’s more, it all made perfect sense!
The main character is a resourceful 9-nine-year-old boy named Elmer. Elmer meets an alley cat who sets him on a path of wild adventures in faraway lands. At every step of the way, Elmer meets obstacles that he overcomes with cleverness and kindness.
I love that the story is narrated in the spirit of an old folk tale. Of course, we had to go ahead and get the two sequels Elmer and the Dragon in which a terrible storm blows Elmer to the Canary Islands (will Elmer get home for his father’s birthday?) and The Dragons of Blueland where Elmer battles to save a whole family of dragons.
All three books are great to talk about courage and bravery, resourcefulness and kindness. Kids love that a little boy outsmarts all the sneaky big animals and greedy hunters. If you are looking for some inspiration for what to do after you are done with the book here is a literature unit for ages 3-6 and here is a guide to using a book for older kids (it’s not just for classroom and actually works very well in the home).
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
This 2010 Newbery winner grabbed my kids’ attention with its cover. Against a distinctive dark blue background, you see an image of a striking red dragon carrying a young girl in a colorful Chinese outfit. The image promised adventure and excitement and my kids were not disappointed. The story has all the elements of a classical adventure tale. A likable main character – a kind and brave girl named Minli that kids cannot help but root for. A worthy quest – she wants to find the Old Man of the Moon to ask him to bring luck to the valley of the Fruitless Mountain, where she lives. And the heart-stopping adventure on the way that includes dragon rescue and breaking-and-entering into the King’s palace. The book is filled with dozens of Chinese legends and fables that break the narration and according to my 8-year old are the best part of the story. The illustrations by the author are very detailed and unique.
How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell
This 12-book series makes a wonderful and flavorful addition to any Dragon library. Since I began researching and reading books about dragons for little kids, I have come to appreciate the extra challenge of portraying an epic adventure of fire-breathing proportion with keeping violence and strong language under wraps. Some series start innocently enough (Harry Potter), but by book 2 it becomes inappropriate for the little kids. I’m happy to tell you that we are in Book 5 of this series and still find it suitable for small children, as well as captivating. And did I say funny?
Just in case you are not familiar with the series, the stories are set during the Viking era and tell the adventures of a teenage boy named Hiccup, the son of the Viking chief. He is seemingly weak, but he is smart, inventive and his quick thinking often saves the day. Each book in the series is an instructional guide from how to train a dragon to how to fight a dragon’s fury and everything in between (we are now on How to twist a dragon’s tale). Although there is a movie based on the series, we have not seen it.
Kenny and the Dragon by Tony DiTerlizzi
From time to time I come upon a children’s story that makes me want to climb onto a podium and scream, “This is brilliant! Everyone should read it.” You don’t even have to be a dragon lover to enjoy this book. Mixing an assortment of common sense lessons, archetypal ingredients (the innocent youth, the journey, the mentor, the initiation), and a fast pace, makes this a must read for all ages. While reading, I actually forgot that the main character was a bunny and the target audience elementary students. Based loosely on the very old tale of The Reluctant Dragon (19th century), this funny and smart story is about a friendship between Kenny (a gifted child and a bookworm), and the dragon named Grahame (a peace lover and a poet). The most important lesson of this story is that wit is more important than force. A great reminder for all of us so we may have effective dealings with people all around us. Persuasion is more powerful than the use of force. This is the kind of story that is best read together, as there are many sophisticated terms that kids might not understand. I also highly recommend the audio version of this book read by Alan Camming.
Dragonology: The Complete Book of Dragons by Dr. Ernest Drake
In this fictional story, presented as a non-fiction text, Dr. Ernest, nineteenth-century dragonologist, purports to be one of the few specialists in the field of dragonology – one of the oldest and least researched natural sciences. In his book, in scientific terms and with the aid of a beautiful, high-quality artwork, he describes the classification of dragons by habitat, explains dragon biology and physiology, the life cycle, behavior, and even gives workable tips for taming and flying dragons. Especially praised by my kids are the sections on spells and charms, the beginner’s guide to dragon riddles and puzzles, and skin samples.
Of course, in reality, this fictional book is written by a modern writer. Englishman Dugald Steer, an author of over one hundred books, many of which have a word “dragon” in a title. The imaginative illustrations, with the wide array of tabs to pull and things to touch, are the result of a creative collaboration of three talented artists. The book is funny and captivates kids. And maybe as a result of reading this book you might find your eight-year old sitting at the kitchen table copying a skeleton structure of dragon in a notebook (like I did).
Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri
The author of this picture book subscribes to the belief that dragons love tacos and if you want to make friends with dragons, you better start making lots of tacos. Just make sure you pay attention to their composition. Tomatoes, lettuce, cheese are all good choices. Spicy salsa, definitely a no! It makes them snort fire and they can end up burning down your house. I thought the book possessed some degree of attraction but nothing ever-lasting. I was totally wrong. My kids love the book, adore illustrations and most importantly every time they see the book all three of them want tacos for dinner (as any mom of multiple children can attest, any time a book makes all of your children want the same thing for dinner it is a major cause for celebration).
You’ve Got Dragons by Kathryn Cave, illustrated by Nick Maland
There are many books about worry for kids. Just enter “worry books for kids” on google and you will get many suggestions. In this version dragons and perfect illustrations combine to create a lesson that all kids can enjoy. Worries, I mean dragons, can be scary. Pretending that worries, I mean dragons, are not there is hard work and dealing with them can be exhausting. Just ask Ben, the young protagonist of the story, who wonders what he did to deserve his dragons (worries). But not to worry, you don’t have to let dragons rule your life. Ben’s tips on what to do when you’ve got dragons can help. Remember that dragons get bigger when they are ignored, so acknowledge your worries (dragons), talk with someone else about your dragons and get plenty of hugs. All great tips for a young child struggling with worries. If your child has a fascination with dragons, the engaging illustrations and lots of humor will speak to your child. The most important message of the book is that “no dragon is more powerful than you.”
No Dragons for Tea (fire safety for kids and dragons) by Jean Pendziwol, illustrated by Martine Gourbault
When you explain fire safety to kids, you want them to take it seriously. It is a lesson you need them to remember in case the unthinkable happens, but you don’t want to scare them. This rhyming book, written with the assistance of a fire department captain, is perfect for the task. It’s fun, engaging and memorable. What kid doesn’t think it’s cool to make friends with a dragon and invite him over for tea like the little girl in the story? Unfortunately, when the dragon sneezes, he sets the house on fire. While the little girl knows what to do in case of fire, the dragon does all the wrong things – tries to hide, then go back into the burning house to retrieve his favorite toy. “The dragon got scared and decided to hide, But I knew when there’s fire, we must get outside.” This book is only one in the series of dragon tales for kids that teach important lessons from Kids Can Press. You can also explore Once Upon a Dragon (stranger safety for kids), The Tale of Sir Dragon (dealing with bullies for kids), and A Treasure at Sea for Dragon and Me (water safety for kids).
Have You Seen My Dragon? by Steve Light
If you have toddlers and preschoolers you might want to get them their own dragon book. This will give them something to flip through as older kids are listening to the more advanced dragon stories. This book has been our life saver on many occasions when my 4-year old would get jealous of the older kids getting more attention and trying to pull the book we are reading aloud out of our hands. In this counting book, a little boy travels around a city looking for his dragon. On each page, against the stark background of the black-and-white city, there are colorful things to count: hot dogs, buses, balloons, and taxis. My son enjoys looking for dragons and counting the objects (like many preschoolers he enjoys counting). Every time he gets to the end, he just turns the pages to the front page and starts from the beginning again.
Some people, like me, need years to start appreciating the value of a good dragon book. Others, like my children, gain a sense of appreciation at an early age. Whatever your style, if you are a lover of dragon books, check out our list and share your suggestions with us! We would love to discover some new dragon books to read.
Are there any types of books you are boycotting for any reason? Share your thoughts. I love a good discussion.