The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus is back in town, and this time they've brought dragons! Not real dragons because, you know, Obama, but their new show is dragon-themed and features a gigantic replica that is brought to life through the combined actions of the performers representing different tribes of dragon worshippers.
It looks amazing. In addition to there usual circus fare there's a focus on things like Shaolin and kung fu. All in all a fun time for the whole family. To celebrate, I thought I'd take a look back at some of the greatest children's and young adult dragon books you can use to pump up your offspring before they go see the giant fire-breathing robot facsimile.
Dragon of the Lost Sea: Laurence Yep wanted to bring Chinese mythology to young American audiences, and the result is an amazing adventure story. The water dragon Shimmer is on a quest to restore her aquatic kingdom that was dried up and contained in a pebble by a sorcereress. She gains an ally in an orphaned human boy, and the two learn to trust and accept one another in the face of terrible odds. It's an oft-times over looked series of books, but it's a quick fantasy read that you can get instantly into.
Dragon's Blood: Bar none this was my favorite book as a child, and probably the reason I like so much science fiction. On the desert planet of Austar a young slave boy named Jakkin hopes to steal a dragon from his employer in order to train it to fight in the gaming pits that serve as the planet's main tourist attraction. Now that I think of it it's something of a dark book, but the relationship between Jakkin and his dragon is a touching boy-meets-dog kind of story that serves as a primer for more mature reading later in life.
Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher: Jeremy Thatcher stumbles into a mysterious shop, and walks away with a dragon egg. He thinks it's just a novelty, but soon he has to deal with a young dragon that no one else can see. It's a magical little book that tugs on the heartstrings something awful when it's revealed his dragon must one day leave. Bruce Coville's book has stood the test of time and was a direct inspiration to...
Eragon: You might be familiar with Eragon from the movie that came out a few years back, which was very excellent by the way. Christopher Paolini uses Coville's basic premise but adds a grandiose epic trilogy aspect to it including pursuit by an evil king and a rebellion against his forces. If your kids aren't quite up to Lord of the Rings yet, Eragon is a good place to try and ease them into such works.
Farmer Giles of Ham: Speaking of Tolkien, there's nothing wrong with The Hobbit. It's a classic for a reason, and Smaug is not only a devastating force but a gift of a conversationalist villain. However, reading it leads to watching that overblown mess of a movie. I suggest instead one of Tolkien's shorter, more fairy tale works instead. Farmer Giles follows a local farmer who ends up leading a crusade against a thieving and cowardly dragon. It's a comic work that shows off Tolkien's playful side, and the light-heartedness of the telling is great for a snuggle-reading session in the chair.
There's No Such Thing as a Dragon: If you are looking for something to read to younger kids then Jack Kent's book is great. Bill Bixbee finds a tiny dragon in his room, but his parents refuse to believe it. With each denial the dragon grows and grows. It's an allegory for the dangers of letting the problems of other go ignored until they grow into big problems, but it keeps an amusing and fun tone.
Herb the Vegetarian Dragon: Herb doesn't like to eat princesses like his friends. He prefers vegetables, but his friends are determined to tie him down and get him to toe the dragon party line. Jules Bass doesn't come across at all preachy, instead teaching kids that it's wrong to force your own beliefs on people that may not share them. The art is a bit too gory, but that that's honestly more of a parental hang-up than a kid's. You can also buy a vegetarian tie-in cookbook!
The Dragons are Singing Tonight: Poetry is always a great way to read to kids, and when it comes to dragons there's none better than Jack Prelutsky. Combined with Peter Sis' unbelievable illustrations, this collection ranges from funny to dark in a way that is irresistible to kids. If you're the kind of parent that loves to read "Jabberwocky" to your children, then you won't find better.
Flight of Dragons: This is the only out of print book on the list, but affordable copies have finally started appearing on Amazon again so I'm including it. It's best known because Rankin-Bass made a near-perfect film out of it, but the book is a dragon nut's dream. It explores what it would be like if dragons were real with a complete history, biology, and other aspects that will have you studying it for ours. Then seriously, get the movie.
Princeless: Jeremy Whitley's comic focuses more on the plight of Ariadne, a princess who is so sick of the whole wait-in-a-tower-for-rescue social system she starts a quest as a hero herself to liberate her sisters from it. Throughout the quest she is aided by her guardian dragon Sparky, who she convinces is living a life of pointless servitude that only ends in death. If you have a little girl, you need to be reading Princeless, but boys will also have plenty to love about it. See you at the circus!
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