Posts Tagged ‘humorous fantasy series’

Here’s a cute meme that’s been going around:

“Look to your left. The first thing you see is what you would hoard as a dragon.”

I saw… a tropical plant. Some of you probably know that I like gardening, so this is actually totally realistic.

What about the rest of you, blogging friends? I’d love if you could share what your hoard item would be.

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Levine, author of the Newberry Honor book, Ella Enchanted, brings us a middle grade fantasy full of mystery, magic, and a few tart observations of human nature. For those of you who think she’s strictly a light-weight author, think again!

There’s a classic fairy-tale feel as Elodie, a country girl, sets off to seek her fortune. She heads to the big city, Two Castles, where her parents want her to apprentice as a weaver. Elodie has her own ideas. She wants to be a mansioner (an actress). Almost from the start, fate goes against her. Her money is stolen, and the mansioner doesn’t need any more apprentices. However, someone else has their own ideas about Elodie’s future.

That someone is Meenore, the dragon whose lair is set on the outskirts of Two Castles. Levine gives us an unique, inscrutable dragon here, yet with all the fun touches you’d expect from this author. For example, Elodie doesn’t know if her new “masteress” is a male or female dragon. This information is too personal to be bandied about, so all dragons are referred to as IT. Meenore is shrewd, exacting, fastidious, yet also generous. Relatively young and friendless, IT too has ambitions that have been denied. While Meenore spends ITs days in menial chores such as toasting cheese sandwiches and lighting blacksmith’s forges, ITs dream is to use ITs intellect and become a famous detective.

To say more would give away too much, so let me turn to the setting. Two Castles is so named, because there are two castles. One, in town, belongs to the despicable King Grenville and his daughter, Princess Renn. The other is home to an ogre, Jonty Um. Despite his fearsome reputation, Jonty Um is well mannered and his servants are devoted, while the locals barely hide their hatred for “Greedy Grenny.” Here, to me, was one of the most telling contrast, that the “normal” people in Two Castles are wary, thieving, deceptive, while the so-called monster is honorable and kind to all.

The story features a host of other interesting characters and draws on several traditional fairy tales, most notably “Puss in Boots.” Through it all, Elodie grows confident enough to choose her own path of loyalty and danger. In terms of subject matter, this book is solidly for middle grades (grades 4-6), with all violence occurring off-stage and only a hint of romance. However, I think kids up to 15 can enjoy this book with its fresh ideas and sense of humor. A Tale of Two Castles is highly recommended.

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If a dragon wrote the screenplay…

A colony of dragons is oppressed by a vicious draconic tyrant, until a spunky youngster makes a daring alliance with a Viking boy to restore justice for all. A touching friendship across racial lines is all that can save both dragons and Vikings… if only the Viking boy would quit making jokes about the dragon’s teeth, which are perfectly fine, thank you!

…can you guess which movie it is?

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If a dragon wrote the book…

An elderly dragon enjoys retirement in his underground domain, won from the dwarves in fair and open combat. One day a draft carries strange odors into his treasury. Small items are pilfered. He’ll get to the bottom of this, or his name isn’t Smaug the Magnificent!

…Can you guess which book it is?

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With a simple title like “Dragon Tales,” perhaps it isn’t surprising that it’s been used more than once. After covering the Dav Pilkey easy reader by that name, I also cast my mind back to a television show that once aired on PBS. Like the Pilkey book, Dragon Tales was aimed at younger kids. It “definitely” showed a sweeter and softer side of dragons. (If your kids ever watched the show, you’ll get that joke.)

The show’s roots are in a series of loosely connected paintings by artist Ron Rodecker. TV producer Jim Coane spotted the whimsical watercolors and worked with Rodecker and various writers to develop the show as Dragon Tales. The show aired on PBS Kids beginning in fall of 1999. Episodes were generated through the 2004-2005 season, and re-runs continued until 2010.

In a Narnia-like opening episode, Emmy (age 6) and her little brother Max (age 4) move into their new house and discover a dragon scale in a secret hiding place. With the scale is a simple rhyme. When Emmy reads it, she and Max are transported to the magical kingdom of Dragon Land. There they discover that other human children have visited the dragons before but the visits eventually stopped. The dragons have been waiting and hoping for more human friends to find them.

The two kids soon make friends with some dragon kids who are roughly the same ages, and the show is on. Together they travel Dragon Land solving problems like sibling rivalry, facing one’s fears, losing a contest gracefully, etc. They often help out various cute and entertaining characters like the Giant of Nod and the cloud dragon Polly Nimbus. There’s even a mentoring dragon school teacher named Quetzal.

As I mentioned, it’s all very sweet. Older kids will no doubt gag at the silly characters and simple plots. It’s a great fit for kids in the target age, with little overt language-learning compared to shows like Dora the Explorer, which aired around the same time. If you’d like your little ones to grow up as fantasy fans, episodes are easily found on the Internet or your local video shop.

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Who’s ready for a complete change of pace? I’ve been covering the serious drama of Harry Potter, so now to some sweet silliness from the author/illustrator of Captain Underpants!

Dragon Tales is a chapter book for kids just learning to read. The title character is a little blue dragon who feels lonely and searches for a friend. (This is Dav Pikley, so the pun is definitely intended!) Due to the prank of a mischievous snake, Dragon thinks a lowly apple has agreed to be his friend. The plot is too simple for me to say any more without giving away the ending, except it will bring a smile to children’s faces.

This is a fun read with cute, cartoon-style illustration. The vocabulary works for the task of building reading skills, and the concepts are good for the age of the reader. Some fans of Captain Underpants may find this book lacks that naughty spark. Others may appreciate its lack.

If you have kids or grand-kids in Kindergarten or First Grade, this is a good choice for you.

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Just one other dragon played a direct and vital role in the saga of Harry Potter. That’s the poor, abused creature guarding the Gringott’s vault in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

I’ve already mentioned the trade in dragon eggs, despite the belief that dragon were too savage to ever be tamed. Evidently, however, they can be trained to a certain extent. The goblins of Gringotts must have purchased this beast as an egg and begun brutalizing it from the moment of hatching. It became conditioned to expect agony when hearing the noise of “clankers” and retreated, allowing the goblins and their customers access to the deepest vaults.

From the start of the series, Hagrid had told Harry that parts of the bank were guarded by dragons. Still, it comes as a shock to encounter this poor beast when Harry & Co. infiltrated Gringott’s to recover a stolen artifact, early in The Deathly Hallows. The guardian they confront is very old and frail. Scars criss-cross its face, its scales are crumbling due to poor nutrition, and its eyes are clouded by cataracts. The author shows her skill in making any dragon come across as this pathetic.

Even in its pitiable state, the Gringott’s dragon is a force to reckon with. Chains might bind its feet, but it’s fire breath works just fine. Harry & Co. are only able to pass because a former employee, Griphook, shows them the secret of the clankers. But Griphook turns on Harry, abandoning him to face the dragon’s rage.

As often happened in this series, Hermione keeps her cool and finds a way to free the captive while also saving herself and her friends. She cuts the dragon’s chains with magic, then starts blasting at the ceiling. Scenting air, the imprisoned dragon also attacks the ceiling, with Harry and Ron joining in. Eventually they penetrate all the way through the main Gringott’s lobby and into open sky.

Harry & Co. barely cling on as the battered old dragon takes wing for the first time in its life. The ride is short-lived; our heroes dropped off as soon as the dragon swoops over a lake. Their great steed apparently unaware of their presence the whole time.

In all of wizarding history, this is the only known circumstance where a human rode on a dragon.

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Dragons once again played a prominent role in the fourth Potter book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. These books have been out long enough that I no longer worry about spoilers when I say that Harry is chosen (through magical duplicity) to take part in a contest of wizarding champions.

At one time, the Triwizard Tournament had been held every five years, between the top three wizarding schools of Europe, Hogwarts in Britain, Durmstrang in Rumania, and Beauxbatons in France. However, so many contestants died that the competition was indefinitely suspended in 1792. At the beginning of Goblet of Fire, Dumbledore was concerned about Voldemort’s evident resurgence. He proposed re-starting the tournament as a way of strengthening alliances. Beauxbatons and Durmstrang accepted his invitation.

With the games back on, what challenge could the young wizards face that would best show their mettle? Well, could it possibly have wings and fire breath? Yes, it could. For the first task, Charlie Weasley and a group of fellow Dragon Keepers used sleeping potions (one can imagine the quantity required!) to subdue four female dragons and transport them to Hogwarts along with their eggs. A golden egg was added to each nest, and the challenge was to get this egg without killing the dragon or damaging her brood.

Actually, Harry faced a special challenge even before the contest began. Hagrid, his good friend, made sure to show Harry what the challenge would be. Harry then had to decide whether he would keep the secret and gain an advantage, or tell his rival, Cedric Diggory, and compete fairly. Harry chose the honorable path. Way to go, Harry.

On the day of the contest, Cedric had to battle a Swedish Short-Snout, which he distracted by transfiguring a rock into a dog. Fleur of Beauxbatons put the Welsh Green to sleep long enough to snag her egg. Viktor Krum of Durmstrang blinded his foe, the Chinese Fireball. And Harry? Harry got the worst of the lot, the Hungarian Horntail. He didn’t even try a spell, but used his skills at extreme broomstick-riding to make the beast chase him and doubled back to snatch the golden egg.

Some of these tactics contradict previous dragon lore, which stated that several wizards had to work together if their spells were going to be effective against a dragon. Krum and Fleur both got it done single-handedly. Nevertheless, this challenge gave us readers one of the most exciting scenes in all the books together.

Next time, a stranger and sadder dragon in the wizarding world.

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Through the first volume of the Harry Potter series, we get lots of interesting and amusing tidbits about dragons. That dragon hide gloves are a required piece of equipment at Hogwarts. That dragon liver fetches a certain price. But the dragons really come alive with the introduction of Norbert.

Now, the common wisdom in Wizarding circles is that dragons are too fierce to ever be tamed. Nevertheless, there’s apparently a recognized trade in dragon eggs. The business is well enough established to provide cover for the wicked Professor Quirrell. Posing as an egg trader, Quirrell tricks Hagrid into telling him about other impressive animals he’s taken care of. Allegedly this is to prove that he can take care of a dragon. In truth, Quirrell wants to know the secret of getting past Hagrid’s guardian beast, Fluffy the three-headed dog.

Even besotted as he is with the idea of owning a dragon, Hagrid knows people aren’t supposed to keep them as pets. He hides the egg, but is found out by Harry, Ron and Hermione. From these passages we learn that baby dragons need a diet of brandy and blood, and that even baby dragons are vicious. Everyone around Norbert seems to get bitten!

Alas for Hagrid, this biting habit led to Norbert being discovered after Ron was poisoned by a bite. (In the movies, it was that sneaky Drako Malfoy who ratted them out.) Dumbledore orders little Norbert sent to one of the dragon reserves, to live among his own kind. In one of the more bizarre Hagrid scenes, our half-giant friend weeps and wonders, “What if the other dragons are mean to him?”

During the remaining books, we get periodic updates on Norbert, courtesy of Ron’s brother Charlie, who is a Dragon Keeper. At last mention, it had been discovered that Norbert was actually a female dragon and had to be re-named Norberta.

Check back next time for a few more dragons who played important roles in the Wizarding World.

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This is a picture book for kids aged 4-6, with charmingly simple illustration by Daniel Salmieri. It starts with that simple statement, “dragons love tacos,” but then weaves in a caveat that builds gentle tension. Dragons might like tacos, but they don’t want anything spicy. In fact, spicy food makes them flame uncontrollably.

The text weaves in several important threads. Parties! Everyone loves parties. Spicy foods? Not so much. Many kids will empathize with the dragons who can’t stand any spicy foods.

More than that, kids at the target age are just becoming social. Learning that you can invite friends over is a big expansion of horizons, yet it also makes you take the emotional leap to understanding that another person’s wants and needs may not be exactly the same as your own wants and needs.

Even if you don’t have young kids or grand-kids, check this out at your local library to see how Rubin creates drama without getting bloody and nasty. Recommended for kids 4-6.

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