Fire-Breathers: Great Dragon Books for Kids
Majestic and fierce, mythical cousins of the dinosaurs, wise or menacing or sometimes both, dragons are creatures with an enduring fascination for fantasy readers of all ages. As a children's librarian, I can testify that "I want a book with dragons in it" is a pretty common request from preschoolers and tweens alike. I was one of those kids myself and I have to admit that I still love a good dragon story. Here are a few of my favorites for kids of all ages.
The Dragon With a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis
If the only thing that's cooler than dragons is shape-shifting dragons, your dragon fan might enjoy this novel by Stephanie Burgis, a master of tween-friendly magic, humor and suspense. Aventurine, a headstrong young dragon, is tricked into human form by a mage with an enchanted hot chocolate recipe. Seeking her fortune in the nearest city, Aventurine finds the human world frustrating at first, but there are compensations, like chocolate—and friendship.
Will Aventurine ever be able to shift to dragon form again? And if she does, will she be able to give up everything she's learned in the human world? Though The Dragon With a Chocolate Heart stands on its own, a companion novel, The Girl With a Dragon Heart, will be published August 2018.
Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher by Bruce Coville
Sixth grade should have been a great year. Jeremy Thatcher and his best friend have been plotting their winning entry in the town-wide art competition for the last two years, and they finally have a shot. Instead, his art teacher hates him, his annoying classmate Mary Lou has a crush and the bullies in his class have decided to make him their personal punching bag. When he tries to escape his problems by fleeing into a mysterious magic shop, the proprietor practically forces him to take home a mysterious pebble, which turns out to be a egg. A dragon egg.
Raising a baby dragon in small-town Massachusetts is, well, about as difficult as you might imagine. This is a fun adventure that's full of magic while being strongly anchored in the real world—where annoying classmates can sometimes turn out to be really awesome, but sometimes bullies are just bullies, even when they're adults.
Dragon's Milk by Susan Fletcher
Kaeldra uses her ability to speak to dragons to make a dangerous bargain—the dragon's milk to cure Kaeldra's little sister of a fever, in exchange for Kaeldra's services as a baby dragon nursemaid. But when the mother dragon is killed by angry hunters, Kaeldra must take on the dangerous task of taking the draclings to safety in a foreign land.
The sequel, Sign of the Dove, follows Kaeldra's little sister Lyf. Though she was saved by dragons as a child, Lyf is a reluctant hero who hesitates at first to join Kaeldra's underground organization of dragon rescuers. But when the adults are put in danger, it falls to Lyf to complete the mission. These are among my favorite middle-grade dragon tales, and I wish they were better known; readers who enjoy comics may also want to check out Dragon Girl by David Weigel (e-book only).
Kenny And The Dragon by Tony DiTerlizzi
When Kenny's dad comes home with a tale of encountering a fearsome dragon, Kenny decides he has to investigate. Imagine his surprise when the dragon turns out to be gentle and fond of books, hardly the fearsome beast from the books Kenny borrows from his friend George, a retired knight-turned-bookseller. But the frightened villagers want a battle between knight and dragon, and Kenny might need all of his wits about him to save his friends.
Kenny and the Dragon is both a fine short chapter book in its own right and an homage to Kenneth Grahame's classic tale The Reluctant Dragon. DiTerlizzi, best known as the co-creator of the Spiderwick Chronicles, illumines the texts with his whimsical black-and-white drawings. Readers who like this warmhearted early chapter might also enjoy My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett, and its sequels Elmer and the Dragon and The Dragons of Blueland.
East Dragon, West Dragon by Robin Eversole
"West Dragon thought East Dragon was a slob. East Dragon thought West Dragon was a slob. And besides, being dragons, they were a little afraid of each other because they didn't know who was bigger, who was fiercer and who had the bluest, hottest fire. So they kept a world between them, just in case." This witty folktale remix, illustrated by Scott Campbell, is both a fun adventure and fable about working together across differences, perfect for reading aloud to dragon-lovers ages 4 and up. For another fractured fairy tale, check out Snoring Beauty by Bruce Hale and illustrator Howard Fine, in which a princess is turned into a giant, snoring purple dragon.
Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George
"It was my aunt who decided to give me to the dragon. Not that she was evil, or didn't care for me. It's just that we were very poor, and she was, as we said in those parts, dumber than two turnips in a rain barrel." That's the witty, wry voice of our heroine, Creel. When her aunt's hare-brained plan to offer Creel to the local dragon as a means to a dowry goes awry, Creel finds herself on an unexpected adventure—with an even more unexpected dragon ally.
In the big city, she finds employment with her sewing skills, a new life and maybe even love with the young prince—but happily ever after is going to take some work. Creel's adventures continue in Dragon Flight and Dragon Spear. Readers who appreciate this novel's combination of humor, fairy tale subversion, girl power and wise-yet-temperamental dragons, will likely also enjoy Dealing with Dragons and its sequels by Patricia C. Wrede.
Raising Dragons by Jerdine Nolen
This charming picture book, illustrated with soft glowing colors by Elise Primavera, tells the tale of a farm girl who discovers a mysterious egg and vows to hatch it. She names the dragon who hatches from the egg Hank, and at first her parents are a bit perturbed. But Hank soon proves himself to be a valuable helper, and the little girl realized that she knows what she wants to be: a dragon hatcher.
This is a great read for the K-2 audience—those that can listen to a longer, more complex story but still love pictures. For more baby dragon shenanigans, check out Good Night, Good Knight by Shelley Moore Thomas, in which a knight is somewhat reluctantly talked into baby-sitting several high-energy baby dragons; this is a great title for read-alouds and beginning readers alike.
Dragonbreath by Ursula Vernon
He dreams of adventure and daring deeds, but he still can't breathe fire and his daily life is more math class than sailing the Seven Seas. He's Danny Dragonbreath, and the shenanigans he and his best friend Wendell Iguana get up to range from the unbelievable to the ridiculous. This is the first of a multi-volume series, done in a fast paced style that alternates between prose storytelling and comic panels. For a more action-oriented, less humorous take on what a dragon society would be like, check out Wings of Fire by Tui T. Sutherland, also a series opener.
City of Fire Laurence Yep
This exciting fantasy takes place in an alternate version of WWII-era San Francisco, where mythological beings from many cultures meet. Scirye, a bored and mischievous diplomat's daughter from the Kushan Empire (a fictional kingdom inspired by Mongolia) finds her destiny entwined with a dragon assassin in human form named Bayang, a street urchin named Leech with magical powers unknown even to himself, and other unusual characters, when a wicked dragon thief attacks. This is the first in a trilogy, followed by City of Ice and City of Death.
For another read on the border between tween and teen, check out the e-book only title, Jennifer Scales and the Ancient Furnace, in which 14-year-old Jennifer Scales discovers that puberty has awakened her heritage as a dragon shape-shifter, and brought plenty of trouble along with it.
Waking Dragons by Jane Yolen
A little boy begins his day with an important task: waking some sleepy dragons so they can all get off to school. This tale is one of the few dragon stories that works for a very young audience; Yolen's text is simple and flowing, while the illustrations by Derek Anderson absolutely jump off the page with vibrant color.
The prolific and accomplished Yolen has written fantastic dragon stories for a variety of ages. Her Merlin and the Dragons is a dramatic picture book for older readers, inspired by Arthurian legends, while Here There Be Dragons is a compendium of poems, stories and dragon-lore with compelling black-and-white illustrations by David Wilgus.