My recent review of Oddfellow’s Orphanage reminded me of a childhood favorite the Newberry Honor winning My Father’s Dragon and it’s follow up titles Elmer and the Dragon and The Dragon’s of Blueland. I remember rereading these books dozens of times in first and second grade, so I went back to those books to give them a closer look and see what 7 year old me saw in them.
Three things to love about this book as a reader
1. Like Oddfellow’s Orphanage, this book has art on nearly every page and a map on the end papers. I adored maps when I was a kid. I still do. And I loved the warmth of Ruth Chrisman Gannett’s illustrations. People often talk about the importance of pictures for struggling readers or kids accustomed to the more visual video game world. I was a precocious reader and at the age of 7 was able to read books much harder than this. I didn’t play video games until I was much older, but the pictures in this book were very appealing to me added much to the story. I remember that one of the first things I did when I picked up the book for the first time was flip through the pictures to make sure that the dragon was not going to be too scary. I was plagued by nightmares when I was little and careful not to read stories with unmanageable monsters. But look at this dragon. Who could resist this beautiful puppy of a monster? Not me.
2. I love Elmer’s inventiveness. Everything he needs is in his backpack. He thinks things through. When he’s really stumped he eats a few tangerines. And he isn’t afraid to go to an island that terrifies grown ups because there’s a mistreated dragon out there who needs him. I loved that kid when I was 7. I wanted to be that kid. I’d still like to be as kind and clear headed and brave as he is.
3. Also, Elmer Elevator is an awesome name.
And I love it that the author/illustrator pair is a woman and her step-mother. The mom writer in me loves it that Ruth Stilles Gannett (in addition to being a Newbery Honor winning author) is the mother of 7 daughters.
Something to think about as a writer
Here’s a great example of a character who takes action on his own without adult intervention. Elmer’s not the cliched orphan, or a kid who’s shipped off to boarding school. He has a loving family. And he just decides to go off on an adventure all on his own, on the advice of a very well-informed stray cat. He faces danger, makes decisions, out wits lions, tigers, and boars and wins the loyal friendship of the cutest dragon ever! Hard to beat that for kid appeal. When I go back to writing later tonight I want to look through my most recent scene and ask myself, is this character making his own decisions and living with the undiluted consequences of them?
How I came to review this book
My mom saved many of my favorite books and this is one of them. There is also a 50th anniversary edition available this year which includes all three of Elmer’s adventures. This book is published by Random House which also publishes me. I wouldn’t dream of claiming that my reviews are objective or impartial. I only hope that they are useful.