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I can’t resist sharing this dragon poem by my good friend, Kenn Nesbitt. It’s from his collection, The Biggest Burp Ever. Kenn is a former Children’s Poet Laureate who has built his life around making kids laugh out loud. Check out his web site, poetry4kids.com. You won’t regret it!

MY INVISIBLE DRAGON
by Kenn Nesbitt

I have an invisible dragon.
She’s such a remarkable flyer.
She soars through the sky on invisible wings
exhaling invisible fire.

Read the rest here…


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After the long-ago dragon of Ogden Nash’s Custard, here is a more contemporary dragon story. Dragon Was Terrible is a picture book, written by Kelly DiPucchio and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli. It was published in 2016.

The title character, Dragon, is terrible in the sense of playing naughty tricks. He annoys people in his Medieval village by making inappropriate noises, TPing the castle, and so on. Everyone tries to bring him in line, and everyone fails. That is, until a clever young boy devises a gentle solution.

This book is simple and fun, perfect for kids around Kindergarten. Many of Dragon’s pranks are similar to what a child would encounter when they start school and have to cope with the new rules and people from outside their own family. If you have kids or grandkids in that age group, they’re sure to enjoy Dragon Was Terrible.


A few of my other books:

Aunt Ursula’s Atlas, Lucy D. Ford’s short story collection and Masters of Air & Fire, her middle-grade novel.

The Grimhold Wolf, my Gothic werewolf fantasy, and my epic fantasy, The Seven Exalted Orders.

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Custard is the unlikely hero of a comic children’s poem by Ogden Nash. “The Tale of Custard the Dragon” was first published in 1936 but retains its appeal after 81 years. Indeed, in some ways it was ahead of its time. Whenever you hear someone say there were no girl heroes in 20th Century literature, you can remind them of Belinda, who was “brave as a barrel full of bears.”

The setup is that Belinda has several pets — kitten, mouse, dog — who are all brave and bold, while her “realio, trulio, little pet dragon” just wants a nice quiet cage. They all tease poor Custard — until the day a pirate shows up. Then they learn who’s really the bravest of all.

What the heck, you can read the poem here! It’s more fun than a barrel full of bears.


A few of my other books:

Aunt Ursula’s Atlas, Lucy D. Ford’s short story collection and Masters of Air & Fire, her middle-grade novel.

The Grimhold Wolf, my Gothic werewolf fantasy, and my epic fantasy, The Seven Exalted Orders.

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Many of us will remember Serendipity Books. We may have read them as kids, or we may have read them to our own kids. This long series, written by Stephen Cosgrove, has a distinctive look thanks to the soft and charming illustration by Robin James. In these books, a variety of animals both natural and mythical have adventures that end with a clear moral or lesson.

The success of this series carries a really interesting lesson all its own. The author struggled to find books he believer were appropriate for his young daughter. Standard publishers offered hardback books that were fairly expensive, and (he felt) lacked a moral center. Dissatisfied, Cosgrove set out to write his own book. His goal was to offer inexpensive paperbacks with the wholesome tone he was looking for.

Cosgrove did write his book. He found his own illustrator and began to approach traditional publishers. However, editors still wanted to publish in hardback, and Cosgrove was determined to bring out modestly priced paperbacks. Ultimately he decided to publish on his own. The first four books appeared in 1974. They were Serendipity, Wheedle on the Needle, The Dream Tree, and The Muffin Muncher (since revised as The Muffin Dragon) with a series title of Serendipity Books.

Self-publishing was extremely rare in the 1970s. The stigma of vanity presses was strong. But Cosgrove did what every successful self-published author has to do. He identified his audience (Christian families with young children). He decided how to reach them (gentle fables with sweet illustration). He aimed at family budgets with his inexpensive paperbacks.

It all paid off. Serendipity Books were a great success. Cosgrove and James expanded the series with many more volumes. All were independent of each other, although a few characters like Morgan the unicorn and Lop the rabbit starred in more than one book. In fact, the series was such a success that Cosgrove merged his company with Price/Stern/Sloan in order to focus on his writing.

Among the many characters, my favorites are the dragons. Some that come to mind are Creole, who learned that true beauty is within, Trafalgar True, who stepped in to stop a senseless war, the Muffin Muncher, who learned not to be so greedy, and of course Serendipity, the pink sea serpent who searched the world to find out who or what she was.

In all honesty, the Serendipity books seem fairly dated to a 21st Century children’s writer. Telling a story with a moral is not how we approach our audience these days. I find, also, that Cosgrove’s vocabulary is much too difficult for a young reader to handle. So these texts seem more directed at the adult who is reading than the child who is listening.

Nevertheless, the messages still ring true. In classrooms where students struggle with social behavior, Serendipity Books can be a way to help learn about friendship, equality, and respect for the environment.


A few of my other books:

Aunt Ursula’s Atlas, Lucy D. Ford’s short story collection

Masters of Air & Fire, Lucy D. Ford’s middle-grade novel

The Grimhold Wolf, my Gothic werewolf fantasy, and my epic fantasy, The Seven Exalted Orders.

 

 

 

 

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In this Chinese legend, a magical boy named Bayberry sets off to rescue his sister, who is imprisoned by a wicked dragon.

Bayberry traveled for many miles, deep into the mountains. He came upon a place where a huge boulder has fallen across the roadway. Travelers had to wiggle by, risking a deadly fall down the mountain. Bayberry decided to move the  boulder so that everyone could use the road safely.

He wedged his stick under the boulder, but it broke. Then he pushed with all his might. Finally the boulder rolled free. To his surprise, there was a golden flute in the hollow where the rock had been. He picked it up and played a tune.

Suddenly, little creatures jumped out of the ground and the bushes. Frogs, lizards and mice all danced to his tune. As soon as he stopped, they all ran away. “Now I know how to take care of this dragon,” he said to himself.

Bayberry climbed on until he came to the summit of the highest mountain. There he saw a terrifying dragon lounging in front of a cave. Bones lay all around him. At the back of the cave, a human girl was digging  with her bare hands. When she stopped to wipe her tears away, the dragon whipped her back with its tail.

“Since you refuse to marry me, you’ll dig out this cave for the rest of your life!”

At once, Bayberry realized this must be Little Red. He rushed forward, yelling, “You fiend, how can you do this to my sister?”

Before the dragon could react, Bayberry began to play on his flute. The dragon couldn’t help himself. Side to side, twisting and looping, he started to dance. Bayberry played faster and faster, and though the dragon roared and threatened, he couldn’t break the golden flute’s spell.

Little Red ran to greet her brother, but he just shook his head. He kept playing the flute, and the dragon kept dancing. Soon it  gasped for breath.

“You are stronger! Take your sister and go, just as long as you let me alone.”

Bayberry didn’t believe him. He made the dragon dance down the mountainside, where there was a deep lake. In went the dragon, kersplash! While waves lapped at the shore, the dragon begged for mercy.

“Let me alone and I’ll stay in this pond forever. I’ll never bother anyone again!” So finally Bayberry let his golden flute rest. The dragon sank down into the pond.

Brother and sister embraced, weeping for joy. They turned to walk home, but the lake began to bubble and churn. Out came the dragon, ready to tear with its awful claws!

Little Red told her brother, “He’s been so wicked all this time. Nothing will make him change.”

So Bayberry started to play again. He danced the dragon back to the middle of the lake. No matter how the monster raged or pleaded, Bayberry kept playing. He played all day and all night, for seven days, until the waters went still at last. The evil dragon was dead.

The siblings set off again, dragging the dragon’s body behind them. Their mother was overjoyed to see them both safe. Then the family made a new house with dragon bones for the pillars and roof, and the scaly skin for walls. The dragon’s horns made an excellent plow, so they all had good crops for the rest of their lives.

 

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As we were packing up for the end of the school year, I happened upon this retelling of a Chinese folk tale. So if you were wanting to hear about Mozart’s opera, The Golden Flute, you’ll have to forgive me. The translation here is by Robert Morgan, with illustration by Anik McGrory. I tried to find other versions of this story, to confirm that it actually is of Chinese origin, but I didn’t have any luck. Bear that in mind.

There once was a woman who lived in the mountains along with her daughter, Little Red. But one day a horrible dragon swooped down and snatched Little Red. The mother ran after it, wailing and crying, but she couldn’t keep up. As the dragon vanished into the west, Little Red’s voice floated back to her. “One day my brother will rescue me!”

The grieving mother wept as she went home. Little Red was her only child, so how could a brother save her? She passed close to a bayberry tree growing at the side of the road. Her hair got tangled, and she stopped to free herself. It was then she noticed a bright red berry hanging on the branch. She ate the berry and went on her way.

When the woman got home, she suddenly doubled over in pain. Soon she gave birth to a little boy with red cheeks like the berry she had eaten. She decided to call him Bayberry. Indeed this was a remarkable child, for he grew so quickly that within a few days he looked like a teenager. The mother longed to tell Bayberry about his sister’s plight, but she also feared losing her second child to the dragon, so she said nothing.

But this was a secret too powerful to keep. Bayberry was working in the yard when a crow started scolding him. “Your sister suffers while you live in comfort!” Bayberry went to find his mother. He asked, “Do I have a sister?”

When the woman heard what the crow had said, her eyes filled with tears. “Yes, my son. Your sister is called Little Red, and an evil dragon snatched her away.”

Bayberry picked up a big stick and said, “I’m going to find her and kill that dragon so nobody else has to suffer.” Off he went, while his mother smiled through her tears.

Next time, Bayberry’s adventures begin in earnest!

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Here’s another classic picture book with dragons. It was published in 1980, by the author of Love You Forever and other great picture books. His illustration partner for this book was Michael Martchenko.

The Paper Bag Princess features Princess Elizabeth and her fiance, the prim and proper Prince Ronald. Alas, a terrible dragon appears and destroys Elizabeth’s castle. It snatches Ronald, and flies away! The destitute princess sets off to rescue her fiance, with no weapons and wearing nothing but a paper bag (the dragon burned all her gowns when it attacked the castle). Elizabeth succeeds by using her wits, but Ronald is shocked at her undignified appearance. The engagement is over.

These days, we’re accustomed to female characters who defend their own interests, but in 1980 this was a startling reversal of the tropes. It won lots of accolades, especially from feminist groups such as the National Organization for Women. Because attitudes have changed over time, the story has lost some of its punch. Still, you could do a lot worse than The Paper Bag Princess for your child’s bedtime reading.

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