Posts Tagged ‘books for kids’

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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Continuing with the grade-school thread, here’s a sweet and funny dragon story for beginning readers. Good Night, Good Knight was written by Shelley Moore Thomas and illustrated by Jennifer Plecas. Penguin published it in the early 2000s and it is still in print.

The title character is the Good Night, who keeps a faithful watch over his “crumbly, tumbly tower.” But one night he hears a great roar. Tracing the sound, he comes upon a lonely cave where three baby dragons can’t get to sleep. Rather than attacking them, the Good Knight does everything a surrogate parent could possibly do to help them settle down.

This is one of the first books my kids discovered in the library. We read it many times, and it holds a lot of memories. Like I said, it’s sweet and funny. There are two companion books, Get Well, Good Knight and Happy Birthday, Good Night. I recommend them all for a bedtime read or an easy reader.

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Here’s a good old game I’ve had for years but somehow forgotten about. It was released in 2004 by WizKids, and won a slew of awards. They also released Tsuro of the Seas, which is just like Tsuro except you’re sailing a ship and there are sea monsters. Both sets currently are produced by Calliope Games.

Tsuro is a quick board game for two to eight players. You start at the edge of the board and set down tiles, each of which has pictures of various strings that connect with adjoining tiles. These are the paths mentioned in the game’s title.

The goal is to keep to your own path without going off the edge of the board. However, you must always move forward to the end of the path. So, you can force opponents out of the game by setting down a tile that will direct them off the board. If it happens that two players are on the same path and collide, then both are out of the game. Staying still is not an option.

In addition to the simple rules, the illustration is a major selling point for this game. A beautiful red and gold Asian dragon adorns the box. The individual playing pieces resemble standing stones, each with a similar dragon carved in.

This game is very easy and yet challenging. The board only has 36 spaces, so it fills up fast, leading to a short game. People who want dazzling excitement may not be thrilled with Tsuro, but the game is perfect if you just want to chill for a few minutes with family and friends.

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I’m bringing you a blast from the past today, a rare example of Victorian children’s writing that has survived to the modern day. Edith Nesbit was British, born in 1858, and a life-long rebel. She married a socialist writer and was involved in the political causes of the day, including women’s suffrage and worker rights. She was a shocking figure who smoked in public, wore her hair short, and generally showed disdain for Victorian social conventions.

Nesbit began selling poetry at age 15 and continued all her life. It’s a mark of her strong personality that she wrote under her own name rather than her husband’s, which would have been Mrs. Hubert Bland. Yet it’s also telling that she chose to conceal her gender by using her initial, E. Nesbit. Even today, some of our greatest women writers, like C. J. Cherryh and J. K. Rowling, do the same thing.

Amid the constant scramble of writing to keep her family fed, Edith Nesbit made a pioneering contribution to children’s literature. In 1890 there was very little writing specifically for children, and that was mostly sermonizing about how to live a proper British life. Nesbit combined fantasy — fairy tales were big in Victorian literature — with more realistic elements of child behavior and modern life. She referred to real places, such as Crystal Palace, and her child characters were often naughty before their basic goodness won out.

The Book of Dragons is a collection of Nesbit’s short stories, all combining kids, magic, and dragons. Remember that this is Victorian literature. There’s a lot of passive voice. Characters are either good or evil, and not much suspense about the outcomes. All the dragons have just one goal: to eat everyone in the world. Yet Nesbit has great verve, humor, and invention. In many ways, her stories reads like precursors to Roald Dahl and the Oz series of her contemporary, L. Frank Baum.

Of the eight short stories collected here, “The Island of the Nine Whirlpools” is a favorite. A loyal queen is sent to visit a witch by her husband, a stern and unloving enchanter/king. The queen asks to get a baby, sort of like ordering draperies for the palace, but makes a small omission and receives a girl instead of a boy. The king is irate and basically never forgives the queen. The tale strikes me as a poignant comment on women’s lives in the Victorian Era, when men owned everything and women and children struggled to be heard.

Although popular in her time, Nesbit is no longer well known. Her works do survive in “classics” editions by Dell Yearling, or you might find her in a used book store near you. If you like Baum or Dahl, they’ll be worth the hunt.

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Greetings, mortals. It is I, Cazarluun the Majestic, Guardian of Venge Hill and Defender of the Light. As a true dragon*, I shall enlighten you on the nature of the constellations.

Mortals have given various names to those figures drawn by the stars. They are a hobjob, frankly, of humans, animals and fantastic beasts, all tossed upward with no rhyme or reason. Allow me to explain that there is, in fact, a solemn story written in the heavens.

Let us begin with what you call “Cepheus,” a supposed king among humans. Look carefully at the shape, flat on one end and pointed on the other. You will see, as we dragons do, that this is The Egg, and it lies at the center of our most sacred legend.

Near The Egg is a longer, twisting shape called “Draco” by humans. In this case, you’re very close. Mother Dragon is her name, and she keeps watch to protect her precious egg against any who would harm it.

Beyond The Egg is what you call “Cygnus the Swan.” To us this is The Heron, Mother Dragon’s trusted companion. Finally, you have dubbed another extended constellation as “Hydra.” In fact, this is Father Dragon, hunting food for his beloved mate.

As the story tells, many animals had heard that Mother Dragon was guarding a great treasure. They thought it was gold or a talisman of power. In fact, it was far more precious — it was The Egg. Mother Dragon did her best to drive them away, but there were too many of them. She grew exhausted by her efforts. The Heron flew to find Father Dragon, who returned just in time to stop the greedy animals from stealing The Egg.

Be grateful, mortals, that I have shared such wisdom with you. 

* Cazarluun is another dragon character who appears in Lucy D. Ford’s forthcoming short story collection.

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Today I’m sharing an advance review by a young reader. It appeared in the blog of a friend, Jennifer M. Eaton. Her son reviewed the book, Dragons Vs. Drones, by Wesley King. Just the title makes me want this book, and a review straight from the audience is great to hear.

Check it out here.

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Giant dragon statues seem to be a thing in Britain these days. Another large advertising sculpture was unveiled at Caerphilly Castle in Wales on March 1st. In this installation, the head, claws and wingtips of a big red dragon appear to emerge from the moat of the picturesque Medieval castle. With golden glass eyes and steam wafting from the nostrils, it’s a truly amazing sight.

The pieces were made by Wild Creations, a prop maker based in Cardiff. It took about six weeks to model, mold the fiberglass, and paint the set. The same company also created an installation at Cardiff Castle last year, which appears to show a giant rugby ball embedded in the castle wall.

It’s all part of Cadw’s Historic Adventures, a tourism campaign aimed at promoting visits to Wales’ historic castles. If it wasn’t on the far side of an ocean, it would sure work on me!

Check out the full article, with progress photos, here.

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