Book Review: My Father’s Dragon

Rating: ★★★★☆

Elmer Elevator, the narrator’s father, is nine years old when he meets a talking alley cat, who tells him about his journey to a Wild Island where a baby dragon is held captive, forced to ferry animals across the river that divides the island.  Elmer, annoyed with his mother for being rude to the cat, packs twenty-five peanut butter sandwiches, six apples, and assorted gear and stows away on a ship bound for the nearby Tangerina, then crosses a bridge of rocks to explore the island.  There he outwits a succession of fierce animals bound on devouring him and frees the dragon.

This story is masterfully written, in very short chapters that each pack a punch and end with a cliffhanger.  The plot points are simple enough that young children will be able to follow them, but clever enough that adults will enjoy the author’s absurd sense of humor.  It’s perfect for children transitioning out of picture books.  Published in 1947, it reflects mainly wholesome values of kindness, courage, and generosity, with a refreshing naivete, and it will appeal to children who enjoy fantasies.  Older children who care about facts, however, may be annoyed with its lighthearted disregard of realism.

Some concerns that parents ought to consider when deciding about this book are that (as in many fantasies of this type) Elmer does disobey his mother by feeding the alley cat and sneaking out for walks with him.  He also runs away, and during his travels he lies to some animals in order to protect himself.  His mother does relent about the cat, and Elmer never lies outright to his parents, who in a later book welcome him home with glad relief.  These moral elements can be dealt with through discussion, but the power of the story is far greater than a conversation.  I believe that the warm family relationships, and other positive values in the story outweigh the effect Elmer’s rebellion and lying.

All told, this is a positive, funny and lighthearted fantasy with a potentially problematic plot device of lying and running away.

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Publication Information: Gannett, Ruth Stiles. My Father's Dragon. Random House. 1948. ISBN: 0440421217.
Categories: 4 Stars, Age 04-08, Book Tree,, First Chapter Books, Newbery Honor, Read-Aloud Handbook, Transitional Readers, World Books That Show
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Posted on September 17, 2009

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