The penultimate blog our series for National Share-a-Story Month is by Ann Lazim who is the Library and Development Manager at the Centre for Language in Primary Education where she has been advising teachers and parents about children’s books for over twenty years. Ann has trawled some of the treasures from CLPE’s library and beyond to demonstrate that dragons are not always as fearsome as might be supposed.
Dragons in SE1
You don’t have to walk far in the London borough of Southwark, close to the cathedral and Borough Market, to discover dragons in many guises as you can see from this short video of The Great Southwark Dragon Quest to mark St George’s Day.
However, nestling in an Edwardian school building in SE1 is a treasure hoard worthy of a dragon’s protection. Once you start to search, you can discover many of these magnificent mythical creatures in the pages of books in the library of the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education.
They are not always fearsome as might be supposed. There’s the friendly fellow sought by a small boy in Steve Light’s Have You Seen My Dragon? in a busy urban environment, depicted in black and white with splashes of strong colour to aid the counting of objects from manhole covers to lanterns. Lurking beneath a manhole cover seems quite a common occupation for urban dragons, as this is how John, in Russell Hoban and Quentin Blake’s reissued classic first encounters Ace Dragon Ltd with whom he goes fighting and sky-writing.
The main character in Emily Gravett’s Again! is a dragon child who constantly pesters his mum to read the same story over and over again, a scenario many parents will recognise. Eventually, mum’s patience wears thin with some fiery consequences!
The title of Chris Wormell’s George and the Dragon would lead you to expect a retelling of the tale of Saint George, but this George is a mouse who exposes the fatal flaw of a mighty dragon. A matter of fact narration is belied by the images of a huge red scaly dragon, an innocent-faced little mouse and a rescued princess who is not mentioned in the text.
The idea of leaving a girl as a sacrifice to ward off a dragon’s wrath features in Philip Reeve’s novel No Such Thing as Dragons when a quixotic so-called dragon hunter and his young companion find themselves in a situation beyond what they had bargained for. This story takes place in a mythical northern land of ice and snow. Wending our way back to the city, reading Charlie Fletcher’s Stoneheart trilogy can be supplemented by a walking tour taking in many of the London statues that come to life in the course of the stories. In his new Dragonshield trilogy, carved creatures come alive while humans freeze. We become aware that ‘London is full of dragons. Why every important road that leads into the Square Mile at the centre is guarded by at least one dragon.’ These guardians become fearsome enemies in these stories.
However, in Jackie Morris’s highly imaginative picture book Tell Me a Dragon each spread depicts a beautifully distinctive dragon in a symbiotic relationship with a child. Jackie dedicates her book to two other fantastic dragon designers. She praises Terry Pratchett for his creation of the dragons of Discworld. His final book for children was the short story collection Dragons at Crumbling Castle. Her mention of Oliver Postgate sent me scurrying back nostalgically to the Noggin the Nog animations which strongly feature an Ice Dragon.
I’m continuing to delve into the depths of the library in pursuit of dragons inspired by this year’s theme for National Tell a Story Month. I’m currently reading Alexia Castle’s teenage novel The Bone Dragon unravelling a mystery about a girl with a dragon carved from her own rib. And then I’m planning to revisit Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea and seek out some Chinese dragons in our folk tale collection ….
Ann Lazim, Literature and Library Development Manager
Centre for Literacy in Primary Education, Webber Street, London SE1 8QW
This guest post was provided by Ann Lazim. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups.