Book Review: The Reluctant Dragon

Rating: ★★★★★

The Reluctant Dragon is a mild-mannered specimen of his breed who, unlike the “active and earnest” fellows who used to charge around battling knights, has survived long enough to develop his passion for poetry.  He is befriended by an intelligent young shepherd boy, who is placed in an awkward position when the villagers discover the dragon’s presence.  Although the dragon has harmed no one, the villagers are so aroused that they call on Saint George to battle this “pestilential scourge.”  When Saint George arrives the dragon flatly refuses to fight, and the boy is left to find a solution to the impasse.

This is a brilliantly written satirical fantasy, lambasting the traditional knight-and-dragon stories and providing a wonderful protagonist that boys of all ages (and many girls) will want to identify with.  The fantastical pleasure of friendship with a dragon is enhanced by encounters with the famous knight, a theatrical battle, and plenty of intelligent wit to amuse both children and adults.  The language is advanced, suitable for reading aloud or for confident self-readers.  Some of the humor will be above young readers’ heads, but there is enough action to make it interesting for younger ages.

The original classic version is charmingly illustrated in pen-and-ink by Ernest Shepard (who also illustrated the Winnie-the-Pooh books), but for younger readers a more colorful version may be more appealing.  There is a visually pleasing paraphrase by Inga Moore, which unfortunately preserves almost none of Grahame’s marvelous prose.  The unabridged edition by Michael Hague has lavish illustrations on almost every page, and it is my favorite version.

A free audio recording of the story is available on

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Publication Information: Grahame, Kenneth. Reluctant Dragon, The. Hague, Michael (Illustrator). Henry Holt. 1938. ISBN: 0805008020.
Categories: 5 Stars, Age 08-12, Book Tree, Books Children Love, Books That Build Character,, NEH Summertime Favorites, Read-Aloud Handbook
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Posted on June 27, 2010

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