In a recent post, I reviewed a classic dragon quest tale, Cornelia Funke’s Dragon Rider. A great adventure, but at 500+ pages, a little hefty for some. What if you’re just starting chapter books, or need a read-aloud for younger ones?
For those who would like a simpler, shorter dragon story, here’s one old and one new which are good choices.
My Father’s Dragon, by Ruth Stiles Gannett (lexile: 910; AR book level: 5.6; 80 pp)
Though his mother doesn’t like it, Elmer Elevator befriends a stray alley cat, brings him home, and sneaks him saucers of milk. In appreciation, the cat tells him of a far-off place he visited in younger days called Wild Island. It’s populated by wild animals, and they have enslaved a poor baby dragon, tying him up and forcing him to ferry them back and forth across the river that divides the island.
Elmer decides to set out and rescue the dragon, and with the cat’s help carefully prepares for the journey. The funniest part of the story is the strange array of supplies Elmer packs in his knapsack, including: chewing gum, two dozen pink lollipops, a toothbrush and toothpaste, six magnifying glasses, and seven hair ribbons. It turns out, of course, that each is just the right thing to trick one of the animals on Wild Island so Elmer can get to the dragon and free him. They become good friends, and the dragon is happy to fly Elmer back home.
This funny little dragon story was a Newbery Honor book in 1949, and is still popular over 60 years later. There are two later sequels. Elmer and the Dragon (80 pp), tells of their adventures on the way home from Wild Island, complete with an island full of canaries and a buried treasure. In The Dragons of Blueland (80 pp), Elmer helps the dragon rescue his family from those who have discovered their secret home. You can find all three in one volume, Three Tales of My Father’s Dragon.
Thomas and the Dragon Queen, by Shutta Crum (lexile: 770; AR book level: 5.3; 267 pp)
A kingdom at war, a fierce dragon who kidnaps a princess, and a very unlikely knight who sets out to rescue her and in the process discovers his own strengths — all make up this simple fantasy quest with good characters and an unexpected plot twist.
Twelve-year-old Thomas is the oldest of nine children, and is always busy taking care of his younger siblings. He dreams of being a knight, but he is small for his age, and only the son of a leathersmith, not a noble. He gets his chance one day, though, when Sir Gerald happens by, and makes Thomas his squire.
Thomas learns his duties at the castle, but one day when all the knights are away, the princess is carried off by a dragon. Thomas bravely sets out to rescue her — but he’s so small, he can only take a short sword, and has to ride a donkey instead of a horse. In the end, however, it will not be his stature, but rather his courage, perseverance, quick wits, and good heart that lead to success.
This is a perfect read-aloud for younger children. The storyline is not complicated, all of the main characters (including the dragon, it turns out) are good, and Thomas has loving, wise parents. There are enough scary moments to make it adventurous, and a happy ending for all.