In Growing Up With …, Jenn features picture books, middle reader, and teen books linked together by concept or theme.
I wish I could remember my first dragon. It was either Puff or Elliott from Pete’s Dragon, I’m pretty sure — although you can’t rule out Smaug. But smart money is probably on Puff. In any case, I think I might have ended up feeling the same way about them as I do about unicorns (in a word: meh) if I hadn’t discovered Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern books in the fifth grade. People. Riding. Dragons. And talking to them telepathically! A potent formula for a twelve-year-old. What was formerly a weird flying reptile became a creature that could bend the boundaries of space and time and also probably kill someone for you. And sometimes they came in miniature! Who wouldn’t be obsessed?!
Obviously I’m not alone in my fascination; many authors have done the Fearsome Wyrm justice. There are so many that deserve a mention. So many, that rather than try to give them shout-outs here, I finally found a use for my dusty Pinterest account. But I stand by my choices below — if you need a scaly fix, these will come flying to your rescue.
Argus, written by Michelle Knudsen, illustrated by Andréa Wesson
Ostensible Age Range: 4 – 7
Argus wasn’t supposed to be a dragon at all. Argus was supposed to be a baby chick! Sure, his egg didn’t look quite like all the others. Sure, Sally thought that was a little odd. But that was the egg Mrs. Henshaw gave her for their class project. Argus isn’t like the others — he doesn’t like seeds and bugs, he isn’t fuzzy and tiny and adorable, and then he starts to get Sally into trouble. Wouldn’t it just be easier if Sally had a chick like everyone else? While most of us would jump at the chance for a pet dragon, Sally has to deal with the consequences of actually having one!
The Hero and the Crown, Robin McKinley
Ostensible Age Range: 10 – 13
The villainous Maur is absolutely terrifying — and not even supposed to exist! Everyone thinks that he died ages ago. Until he reappears, of course, and starts terrorizing villagers. And wouldn’t you know it, it’s when every able-bodied knight is off fighting in the north. What’s a left-at-home, disregarded, oddball princess to do? Obviously, pick up her sword and get on her horse. Obsessed does not quite capture the intensity of my feelings about this book when I was growing up. Aerin might well have been the first monster-slaying heroine (of many more to come) that I encountered, and Maur’s intense evilness puts the more famous Smaug to shame. Even after he’s dead (woops, spoiler!) he’s still working hard to bring down the country of Damar.
The Last Dragonslayer, Jasper Fforde
Ostensible Age Range: 12 and up
(Can we talk about this cover for a second? I love it so much. The layering of textures is just absolutely perfect. Okay, back to the dragon.) Except that it’s hard to restrain myself to just talk about the dragon in this book, because while Maltcassion is very entertaining, very wily, and a bit scary, the world in which he lives is just as captivating. Marzipan is a dangerously addictive drug, spellcasters have to fill out forms if they want to cast any spells, and there’s a Quarkbeast that I really, really, REALLY need for a pet. And Jennifer Strange, the titular Last Dragonslayer, is a cranky, competent, and wonderful protagonist — when she’s old enough, I’d absolutely have a beer with her. So really what I am telling you is, in this book you get a dragon and so much more. Of course, if you’ve read Fforde before, you’d expect nothing less.