So for my first post, what should I write about so that people will want to come back and read more? Should it be a classic? A new title? A picture book? A chapter book? In perusing my shelves of children’s books, I immediately pulled out ten that I thought would be just right.
Hmm...this was going to be a lot harder than I thought.
Then I saw it. A book that is well known to some, and completely unknown to others. It’s been around since the 1940’s, so it has staying power. It was a Newbery Honor Book in 1949. So what is it?
Drum roll, please.
It’s My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannet. It’s a perfect first chapter book to read to your four or five year old because there are pictures on almost every page. The chapters are short and simple, and it moves along at a nice pace. It’s action based, which is what makes it so attractive to younger readers. I think it has special appeal to kids who don’t like to sit still for a book. Both of my sons and my daughter count it as one of their favorite books from childhood.
Briefly, it’s the story of Elmer Elevator, a nine-year-old boy that sets out to rescue a captured baby dragon. Armed with chewing gum, lollipops, magnifying glasses and other unlikely rescue devices, Elmer encounters lots of obstacles along the way. He’s an independent, resourceful boy who manages to come up with clever solutions to the many problems that arise on his journey. It's the perfect mix of adventure and intrigue, without being too scary.
A heads-up: Keeping in mind that the book was written 60 years ago, there is a sentence in the first chapter that says his mom whipped Elmer. Nowadays, of course, whipping doesn't usually crop up in children's books. Just wanted to give you advance notice.
Once you’ve finished My Father’s Dragon, you’ll be happy to hear that there are two sequels: Elmer and the Dragon
and The Dragons of Blueland (My Father's Dragon). In 1999, they published all three books under the title Three Tales of My Father's Dragon.
When my middle son was in second grade, I read the story to his class and afterwards we made blue and yellow papier-mâché dragons. Those kids are now seniors in high school, and every once in a while one of them will come up to me and say they remembered reading the story about Elmer and making the papier-mâché dragons.
There's a great illustrated map on the inside cover of the book depicting the Islands of Tangerina and Wild Island. It's fun to trace Elmer's route as he makes his way to the baby dragon. One year, My kids made a salt dough map of the islands. It kept everyone very busy over a couple of rainy afternoons.
A BookNosher Tidbit: In 1997, My Father's Dragon was made into a Japanese anime film called Elmer's Adventures, My Father's Dragon.