Monday, November 25, 2013

"My Father's Dragon" by Ruth Stiles Gannett

I’m sure I’ve recounted how my mom used to trick me into reading books when I was younger* by reading aloud the first few chapters of a book and then stopping at the Critical Moment so I had no recourse but to devour the book when she was off making my PB and J. 

Once, however, this backfired.  I was about ten years old, and as we were in the process of moving we were at the time living in my grandma’s basement until our new home was vacated.  My mom got out this book called My Father’s Dragon and was trying to get me to read it.  Now by ten years old I was a confirmed reader, but frankly the illustrations of My Father’s Dragon (and its sequels Elmer and the Dragon and The Dragons of Blueland) seemed pretty babyish to me. 
 
 

“This dragon looks like a dork,” I thought dubiously as she handed me the slim paperback.  “Why does this lion have bows in its hair?  And who wants to read about a story starring someone’s father?”

My mom offered to read the first chapter to me.  Being in the double-digits, of course, I was on to her little scam.  But I let her anyway.  It backfired.  The first chapter of the book is mostly about Elmer Elevator (the “father” in the story) and how he takes in a stray cat who can talk, and how his mother is rude to the cat and so Elmer disobeys his mother and eventually runs away with the cat.

Needless to say the Mater was not pleased with this terrible role model.  She stopped reading the book.  But by then I was hooked.  Not by the main character (whose mother must have been rotten for giving him that name in the first place!), or even the dragon (which was such a clunky “dragon in distress”), but because of the Wild Island. 


It is a truth universally acknowledged that any Forbidden Land, whether it be a fairy tale forest, or a deserted island, or a jungle in Deepest Darkest Africa, is a total Kid Magnet.  This goes for fictional kids who always end up getting to these Forbidden Lands without much trouble or parental interference, but it goes just as well for real children who can’t resist such books.

After the initial child rebellion theme at the beginning of the book (which is the weakest part of the plot, anyway), My Father’s Dragon really picks up the pace.  Elmer of the Regrettable Name stows away on a boat to get to Wild Island to save the Dragon Who Also Has a Regrettable Name from its jungle animal captors, and does so in true MacGyver fashion: with “chewing gum, two dozen pink lollipops, a package of rubber bands, black rubber boots, a compass, a toothbrush and a tube of tooth paste, six magnifying glasses, a very sharp jackknife, a comb and a hairbrush, seven hair ribbons of different colors, and empty grain bag with a label saying ‘Cranberry,’” and some clean clothes.  The subsequent chapters are pretty awesome, showing Elmer defeat the dangerous wild animals such as the Rhinoceros or the Lion with clever, imaginative, and humorous gambits.
 
Just wait till you read what he does with the lollipops.

Much as I dislike most of the illustrations for their "clunky" shapes even today, I can't help but be amused by the Lion and the Rhinoceros ones.  For some reason this particular illustration reminds me of The Tawny Scrawny Lion, which in turn makes me hungry for soup. Not that it takes much for me to be hungry for soup, mind you...

*And obviously less wise, since I had to be prodded into reading!

**To be honest, his mother must have been a rotten person for naming him Elmer Elevator in the first place.

 
Recommended Reading Age: Ten, naturlich!
Parental Notes: I’ve pretty much explained the issues parents might have with this book in the review. 
Availability: You can get just the first book (which is by far the best) or the entire trilogy bound in one volume.

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