Mother Daughter Book Reviews is pleased to welcome author H.L. Burke, as a guest contributor with us today. Ms. Burke is here to share her favorite children’s books featuring dragons.
Favorite KidLit Dragons!
“Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.” ~ G. K. Chesterton
“Fairy tales are more than true – not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.” ~ Neil Gaiman
I’ve always been obsessed with dragons. I want to see one. I want to ride one. I want to be one (at least for an afternoon.). They’re like super-charged-magical dinosaurs. Who wouldn’t get excited about that?
However, beyond the undeniable “cool” factor, dragons represent a lot to a reader’s mind. They’re fearsome and frightening, the stuff of nightmares, while at the same time being fantastic. To face a dragon is the ultimate challenge. Sometimes you end up with a new friend. Other times you have a battle on your hands. Here are some of my top picks for Dragon Themed books for all ages.
Dragon Picture Books:
For picture books, I like a combination of a simple but interesting story and awesome illustrations. My three picks for this category involve a little peril, some important lessons, and a good deal of humor.
- The Tale of Custard the Dragon, by Ogden Nash. This rhyming story is a classic. You can probably find a lot of different versions as far as the illustrations go, but my daughters own Lynn Munsinger one and love it. I had it in a poetry book when I was a child and can still recite most of it. After all, what kid wouldn’t want to be part of a household with so many pets, including a Realio, Trulio Little Pet Dragon? There’s also a well-handled, age appropriate moment of danger and a lesson on what it truly means to be brave.
- The Dragon Snatcher by M. P. Robertson. There are several books in this charming series (starting with The Egg) but this one is my favorite. Why? It has a thrilling adventure with many different dragons.
- The Knight and the Dragon by Tomie dePaola. This classic author handles the age old rivalry between knight and dragon with typical heart and humor. The pictures are clever and children will appreciate how the dragon’s journey mirrors the knight’s. Will these enemies find common ground in the end? We shall see.
Middle Grade Dragons:
When kids get a little older and want to move onto chapter books, things get a little more interesting. The dragons get bigger, sometimes more fearsome, and the dangers become more real, though sometimes the dangers don’t come from the dragons themselves.
- My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett is a sweet classic book. The age range is a little younger, more likely than not this is one you’ll want to read to your five or six-year-olds, though you could also give it to a ten-year-old to read for themselves. A young boy goes on a journey to rescue an imprisoned baby dragon. He faced wild animals and defeats them with clever tricks involving lollipops and hair ribbons. You’ll find very little that is truly scary here, which makes it good for younger sensitive children who want a manageable adventure.
- The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame. I was torn between recommending this book or the updated retelling Kenny and the Dragon by Tony DiTerlizzi, but when in doubt, go with the classics (Or read both and see how long it takes for your kids to put together the similarities). A warm-hearted story of a bookish boy who realizes that the Dragon everyone fears is more interested in poetry than kidnapping princesses. This is sort of the original “friendly dragon” tale, and it’s definitely worth a read through, maybe more than once.
- The Neverending Story by Michael Ende. When your kids are a little older and ready for a little more darkness and terror (while still not too much) this surprisingly deep tale will enthrall them. The Luckdragon Falkor is a little different than the typical scaley beasts. He aids two different heroes in saving the world, the boy reading the book and the boy within the book. I actually found this one as an adult (though I saw the movie when I was younger), but I have a copy waiting for when my daughter is just a little older.
Young Adult Dragons:
The next four books are for slightly older readers. Some might be good read-aloud books for the younger ages, but this will depend on the sensitivity of the child as well as their ability to handle advanced vocabulary. Also, because kids of this age are able to process difficult decisions and danger, we move a little away from the friendly dragons of earlier in the list to some truly terrifying beasts!
- The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley. This Newbery Medal winner follows the growth of the Princess Aerin from young girl, to hero, to ruler. Determined to prove herself, Aerin trains herself to fight the small dragons that plague her homeland. When the great dragon, Maur, returns to terrorize the kingdom, Aerin must face him, but at a cost. To me, Maur is the most intimidating dragon on this list. His evil influence reaches beyond death. The intensity of the fight (and some other lightly touched upon mature subjects) do make this one more of a PG-13 venture. Sometimes dragons need to be slain rather than tamed or befriended. This story shows that girls can be dragon slayers too, which is a nice touch.
- Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede. Now lets step back to the friendlier variety of dragons again. Princess Cimorene is bored and frustrated by her palace life, and volunteers to be the “captive” princess of the dragon Kazul. While there, she foils a treacherous plot with the help of another captive princess, a prince turned to “sort of” stone, and her own wits. Similar to the last book, this features a strong heroine, though this one is more about brains than brawn.
- The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien. Come on! I couldn’t not include this classic. This book is actually mostly appropriate for younger readers, but I personally include it on the YA list because if your young one is anything like 13-year-old me, they’re going to want to dive right into the Lord of the Rings after reading it. Probably everyone knows the story of the book by now, but it’s still a charming classic with a heartfelt message about heroism and greed.
- Farmer Giles of Ham by J. R. R. Tolkien. I’m double dipping with my Tolkien. This is a clever lesser known tale with a lot of vocabulary and humor that might go over younger readers’ heads. Though you might be able to read it to them, if you’re willing to stop and explain words like Blunderbuss. The dragon Chrysophylax is not an altruistic creature like the Reluctant Dragon nor is he pure evil like Maur or Smaug. He’s a little sneaky, a little snarky, and a bit of a coward really, but he’s the perfect foil for the hero Giles and his dog Garm.
So that’s ten amazing dragon books. I could go on, though. Dragons are the perfect way to ride into fairyland. Dealing with dragons can teach you bravery, diplomacy, and discretion as you never know exactly what sort of dragon you may be confronted with as you turn the page. Is it a beast that in truth just wants to be your friend? Or a sneaky gold thief ready to roast you? Dragons are fascinating, fearsome, and fantastic!
Thaddeus Whiskers and the Dragon:
I wrote Thaddeus Whiskers and the Dragon mainly to play with my two favorite creatures (dragons and cats . . . I may do a top ten “cat books” countdown at some point) because everything is better with dragons. Who are your favorite fictional monsters? Do you prefer your dragons friendly or villainous?
About the Guest Contributor
H. L. Burke is an independent author of books for all ages, including the Middle Grade Fantasy Thaddeus Whiskers and the Dragon and the Young Adult Steampunk Fantasy Beggar Magic. She moves around quite frequently, looking for fantastic worlds and creatures, and usually drags along her two Super Hero/Princess daughters and her handsome Marine husband for the ride.
Connect with Author H. L. Burke on her website at www.hlburkeauthor.com