How To Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell

Read: 1 May, 2017

My copy’s cover boasts that this story is “now a major DreamWorks Animation film.” That’s a lie. There is a DreamWorks movie with the same title, and even the main characters have the same names, but it’s not the same story. At all.

That was rather unexpected.

But not unwelcome. The movie was a wonderful story about a friendship between a boy and a dragon that sort of crammed in a thing about a Big Bad to be defeated at the end because I guess the screenwriters felt that they needed a grandiose climax but couldn’t be arsed to write a second draft in which the two plots actually make sense together.

Whereas in the book, there is a Big Bad, but it’s better integrated into the story. And, perhaps more importantly, it actually makes sense.

Unfortunately, I just wasn’t feeling the book. The relationship between Hiccup and Toothless in the movie tugged my heartstrings in all the right ways. But in the book, the two don’t really seem to have much chemistry together.

It didn’t help that the only human female in the whole book was the main character’s mother. I get it, “boys don’t want to read about girls”, but what do you think teaches them that? Sure, the movie crammed in your normal Stock Strong Female Love Interest #3, but at least she was there. It was a start.

I also had trouble with the narration. For whatever reason, I just couldn’t find the rhythm of the text, and I kept stuttering and stumbling over myself while trying to read it out loud. The writing just didn’t have any poetry in it.

There’s a whole lot of your typical boy media “gross-out” stuff, like references to snot and belching and such. I can imagine those being a hit for some kids, but mine couldn’t care less. I can see how this book might hit a lot of a kid’s interests and become a family favourite, but it just wasn’t working for us. Maybe in a few years…

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A Memoir by Lady Trent #2: The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan

Read: 24 January, 2016

I’m not a terribly huge fan of dragons but natural history? The Victorian era? Women who find a way to be badass despite the whole of their society weighing down on them? It’s like these books were written specifically with me in mind.

In this episode, Isabella mounts her first expedition without her husband, and finds herself caught in the middle of a multi-directional political struggle. And, of course, she and her companions make some pretty wonderful scientific discoveries along the way.

As with the first, this book is pretty much perfect. The characters are strong and come through really well, the pacing is spot on, the tone matches the content perfectly. I honestly can’t think of a single critical thing to say.

I’m seeing from reviews that many people found the book boring, mostly because it spent so much time away from the dragons. I guess I can understand, and it’s true that Brennan isn’t exactly Anne McCaffrey. It’s hard to see how this series would hold any interest at all for readers who just want dragons! and adventure!

It is a slower pace, and the dragons themselves are almost incidental to the characterization of Isabella – of her growth, and of her negotiation between the expectations of her gender and the hungers of her personality. But for the right audience (i.e.: me), these books are just glorious.

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Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher by Bruce Coville

Read: 29 September, 2013

When Jeremy Thatcher runs away from bullies, he finds himself in a strange part of town he’s never seen before. There, he encounters a strange magic shop and buys a beautiful ball that turns out to be a dragon egg. But how can he keep a dragon safe – and keep the neighbourhood pets safe from a dragon – while keeping it all a secret?

I’ve been trying to read through kids’ books, particularly those with male protagonists, so that I’d have things to read with (or recommend to) my son. Jeremy Thatcher has large font and illustrations every couple pages, but it’s still over 100 pages long, and would be most appropriate for a fairly confident young reader. 

I really enjoyed this book! Jeremy is complex and interesting, and he feels very grounded – his family has quirks and traditions, and they feel like a real family (albeit perhaps a little silly with the number of pets they have!). His parents have a dynamic, both with each other and with Jeremy, that feels authentic.

The plot itself was interesting. I had been wondering how the situation would be resolved, and, sure enough, an ending was found just in time – yet it didn’t feel contrived. I quite enjoyed many of the traits given to the dragon, and the way she was described.

I found the book full of little discussion starters and “teachable moments” that I look forward to talking with my son about. I definitely recommend it!

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A Memoir by Lady Trent #1: A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

Read: 14 July, 2013

A Natural History of Dragons is the first memoir of Isabella, Lady Trent, and chronicles her childhood obsession with dragons, culminating in her first expedition to study them.

Not only does Brennan cram everything I love into the book like she she was working with a checklist, she does it well. A Natural History of Dragons is well written, well plotted, clearly well researched, and all around super fun.

The illustrations fit the content and style of the story, and they are quite beautiful. The characters are great (Isabella’s adult voice is hilarious!), and Brennan deserves special kudos for having a romantic interest who is actually a decent and complex guy with his own inner conflicts, rather than just going the usual route of either having a manic-pixie-dream-guy or a macho jerk.

If you’ve ever enjoyed a Victorian novel or if you have any interest in natural history or fantasy, I really couldn’t recommend this book more.

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