Dragons! Rampaging, Reluctant, Poetic, and Mathematical


Dragons come in all shapes and sizes, and run the gamut when it comes to personality, philosophy, civility, and attitude toward humans. Beowulf, Siegfried, and Saint George all killed dragons; so did Cadmus, the prince of Greek mythology, who planted the dragon’s teeth, from which sprang up a race of fierce warriors.

Famous dragons include Smaug, the greedy dragon of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Falkor the Luck Dragon of Michael Ende’s Neverending Story, and Norbert, Hagrid’s obstreperous (and illegal) pet in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone. In C.S. Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader in the Chronicles of Narnia series, the obnoxious Eustace Scrubb is turned into a dragon and emerges from the experience a wiser, better boy.

Investigating dragons is fun anytime – but it’s particularly appropriate on April 23rd. Which is St. George’s Day.


  My first children’s book was about a dragon. In The Dragon of Lonely Island (Candlewick, 1998), three children – Hannah, Zachary, and Sarah Emily – spend the summer on Lonely Island off the coast of Maine where, with the help of a mysterious map, they discover a wonderful golden three-headed dragon. The dragon tells them three magical tales from its past – one set in ancient China, one about a boy on board a pirate ship, and the last about two children who must survive on a desert island after a plane crash. For ages 6-11.
  In a sequel, Return of the Dragon (Candlewick, 2005), the children return to the island where, through the dragon’s stories, they visit ancient Greece, a castle in the Middle Ages, and a southern plantation in the days before the Civil War, learning lessons along the way. They also solve a mystery and struggle to protect the dragon from a terrible danger. For ages 6-11.


  Jackie Morris’s Tell Me a Dragon (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2009) is an exquisitely illustrated collection of dragons, from the huge to the tiny: “My dragon is made from the sun and the stars.” “My dragon is snaggle-toothed, fierce and brave.” (On the cover, a glorious lavender dragon plucks a cupcake from a platter.) The book ends with “Tell me about your dragon.” For ages 4 and up.
  In Tomie de Paola’s The Knight and the Dragon (Putnam Publishing Group, 1980), both knight and dragon realize that they’re supposed to fight – but neither knows how to go about it. They do their best to find out (the knight resorts to the castle library; the dragon delves through his ancestor’s artifacts) – but with the help of a canny princess, they eventually realize that they’re better off just being themselves. For ages 4-8.
  In Timothy Knapman’s Guess What I Found in Dragon Wood (Bloomsbury USA, 2007), an excited young dragon finds a Benjamin – a goggle-eyed little boy in striped boots – in the woods and brings him home to keep as a pet. For ages 4-8.
  In Demi’s exquisitely illustrated Liang and the Magic Paintbrush (Henry Holt, 1988), everything that Liang paints with his magical paintbrush comes alive. When confronted with an evil emperor, Liang paints a dragon. For ages 4-8.
  In Jay Williams’s lovely picture book Everyone Knows What a Dragon Looks Like (Aladdin, 1980), it turns out that everyone doesn’t. Only the little orphan boy Han believes that a dragon could look like a little fat old man. For ages 4-8.
  In M.P. Robertson’s The Egg (Puffin, 2004), George discovers an enormous golden-brown egg in the family henhouse from which hatches a baby dragon. Even though George doesn’t speak Dragon, he manages to “teach the dragon dragony ways,” and help it find its way home. The illustrations are wonderful: one painting shows the armchair-sized egg perched on George’s quilt-covered bed, while George sits on top of it, reading. For ages 4-8.
George’s dragon returns for another adventure in The Great Dragon Rescue (Frances Lincoln Books, 2009).
  Christoph Niemann’s The Pet Dragon (Greenwillow Books, 2008) is a clever introduction to Chinese characters through the story of a little girl, Lin, who receives a little red dragon as a present. The characters are integrated into the pictures, which works as a memory aid. For ages 4-8.
  In Carmen Agra Deedy’s The Library Dragon (Peachtree Publishers, 1994), Sunrise Elementary School’s new librarian is a dragon – who refuses to let children (with their sticky little fingers) near the library books. Nothing will convince her otherwise, until a myopic little girl wanders into the library and begins reading a story about a dragon out loud. Children gather to listen and the library dragon has a change of heart. For ages 4-8.
  Mi Fei, a humble scroll painter, is the hero of Marguerite W. Davol’s The Paper Dragon (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1997). When the terrible dragon Sui Jen awakes from his long sleep and begins trampling rice fields and destroying villages, Mi Fei goes out to stop him. The dragon strikes a bargain, challenging Mi Fei to bring him fire, wind, and the strongest thing in the world – all wrapped in paper. Mi Fei responds with a paper lantern, a paper fan, and a paper painting of all the people in his village – since the strongest thing in the world is love. Naturally he saves the day. Illustrated with lovely tissue-paper collages by Robert Sabuda. For ages 4-9.
  Gorgeous gold, red, and purple Chinese dragons fill Demi’s The Boy Who Painted Dragons (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2007). The painter, young Ping, is visited by the Heavenly Dragon, who discovers that the painted dragons really represent Ping’s fears. He gives the boy three pearls of wisdom, which he can only earn by confronting four dragons: Water Dragon, Fire Dragon, Earth Dragon, and Wind Dragon. For ages 5-9.
  Caldecott winner David Wiesner’s The Loathsome Dragon (Clarion Books, 2005) is a retelling of a traditional English fairytale in which a widowed king falls in love with a wicked enchantress, who – jealous – turns his lovely daughter, the Princess Margaret, into a terrible dragon. Margaret’s brother Richard eventually manages to reverse the spell and – with the help of a magic rowan twig – the enchantress is turned into a Loathsome Toad. For ages 5-9.
  In Ruth Stiles Gannett’s My Father’s Dragon (Alfred A. Knopf, 1988) (a Newbery Award winner from 1948), the animals of Wild Island have captured a baby dragon and young Elmer Elevator, with a knapsack full of lollipops and hair ribbons, sets off to rescue it. Sequels are Elmer and the Dragon and The Dragons of Blueland. For ages 5-10.
Read My Father’s Dragon online.
  Kate McMullen’s Dragon Slayers’ Academy series begins with The New Kid at School (Grosset & Dunlap, 2003) in which carroty-headed Wiglaf, the smallest and most put-upon of an enormous peasant family, has his fortune told by a traveling minstrel and finds that he is destined to be a hero. Off he goes with his pet pig Daisy to the Dragon Slayers’ Academy to learn his future trade – despite the fact that he can’t stand the sight of blood. Many sequels, all with the same slapsticky humor. For ages 6-10.
  Edith Nesbit’s The Book of Dragons (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2010), originally published in 1900, is a wonderful collection of eight dragon tales, among them “The Book of Beasts,” “The Deliverers of Their Country,” and “Uncle James, or the Purple Stranger.” For ages 8-12.
Nesbit’s Book of Dragons is online here or here
  In Sarah L. Thomson’s Dragon’s Egg (Greenwillow Books, 2007), young Mella is a dragonkeeper – but the dragons she tends are small friendly farm animals, not the fire-breathing monsters of the old myths. Then Mella comes upon a dragon’s egg in the forest, guarded by a truly terrifying dragon – and with the help of Roger, a squire to a Knight of the Order of Defenders, sets out to transport it safely to the ancestral Hatching Grounds. For ages 8-12.
  Cornelia Funke’s Dragon Rider (Chicken House, 2011) features an orphan boy, a feisty brownie, a brave young dragon, and a quest to return the dragons to their ancestral home – in the teeth of multitudinous enemies, among them the vicious dragon-exterminating Nettlebrand. For ages 8-12.
  Cressida Cowell’s How to Train Your Dragon (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2010) is the first of a humorous series starring the hapless young Viking Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III who – as a warrior-in-training – must (somehow) capture and train a dragon. Many sequels. For ages 8-12.
  For information on the Dreamworks animated movie (loosely) based on the book, see the Internet Movie Database.
  Dragonology by Ernest Drake and Duglad Steer (Candlewick, 2003) is a purported nonfiction guide to dragons by 19th-century “dragonologist” Ernest Drake. Included are explanations of the taxonomy and anatomy of dragons (with diagrams), a dragon alphabet, instructions for tracking and taming dragons, and a fold-out map of “Dragons of the World.” For ages 8 and up.
  In Bruce Coville’s Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher (Sandpiper, 2007), Jeremy stumbles into a mysterious shop and comes home with an egg from which hatches a tiny dragon, Tiamat, visible only to Jeremy and his nemesis, Mary Lou Hutton. With the help of Tiamat, Jeremy gains confidence and perspective – which survive even after Tiamat returns to her own world, where she belongs. For ages 9-12.
  Patricia Wrede’s four-book Enchanted Forest Chronicles series begins with Dealing with Dragons (Sandpiper, 2002), in which the strong-minded Princess Cimorene, who prefers fencing to embroidery, deals with wizards, witches, and an enchanted stone prince, and finally ends up as Chief Cook and Librarian to Kazul, the (female) King of the Dragons. Sequels are Searching for Dragons, Calling on Dragons, and Talking to Dragons. For ages 9-12.
  In Susan Fletcher’s Dragon’s Milk (Aladdin, 1996), Kaeldra’s little sister is dying of vermilion fever, for which the only cure is dragon’s milk. Kaeldra sets out to find some and ends up saving a litter of draclings. Sequels are Flight of the Dragon Kyn and The Sign of the Dove. For ages 9-12.
  In Jessica Day George’s Dragon Slippers (Bloomsbury USA, 2008), Creel’s aunt – she’s not evil, just “dumber than two turnips in a rain barrel” – sends Creel to the dragon in hopes that a wealthy knight will rescue and marry her. Instead Creel makes friends with the dragon, who gives her a strange pair of blue shoes. Wearing them, she travels to the city to work as a seamstress – Creel is a talented embroiderer – where the plot thickens and Creel’s slippers turn out to hold the key to saving both the kingdom and its resident dragons. Sequels are Dragon Flight and Dragon Spear. For ages 10 and up.
  Dragon Slippers has a pattern and tutorial for making your own dragon slippers.
  My all-time dragon favorite is Heywood Broun’s The Fifty-First Dragon, originally published in 1919.  Gawaine le Coeur-Hardy – one of the least promising pupils at knight school – is given a magic word that allows him to kill fifty dragons. Then he discovers that the magic word is a fake. It all makes for some great discussions. For ages 11 and up.
  Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series began in 1968 with Dragonflight, and now comprises some 22 volumes, and any number of Pern-related supplements. The planet of Pern, every 200 years, is endangered by the fall of Thread, silvery filaments that destroy everything they touch. To combat the Thread, a new breed of the native dragons has been developed – capable of burning the Thread out of the sky before it touches down and of bonding telepathically to a chosen human partner, the dragonrider. For ages 13 and up.
See Sariel’s Guide to Pern for a chronological book list and background information.
Dragonriders of Pern is an online fantasy-fiction writing club for Pern fans. Invent your own Pern characters and stories.


  In Margaret Hodges’s picture book St. George and the Dragon (Little, Brown, 1990), the dragon is thoroughly bad, and St. George definitively does him in after a three-day battle. The story is adapted from Spenser’s “The Faerie Queen” and has beautiful illustrations in the style of illuminated medieval manuscripts. For ages 7-11.
  In Kenneth Grahame’s The Reluctant Dragon (Square Fish, 1988), the dragon would much prefer to stay in his cave writing poetry – but the upset populace recruits Saint George and demands a showdown. Saint George, with the help of the boy who has become the dragon’s friend, comes up with a neat solution. For all ages.
Read (or listen to) The Reluctant Dragon online.
  Tony DiTerlizzi’s Kenny & the Dragon (Simon & Schuster, 2012) is a riff on Kenneth Grahame’s The Reluctant Dragon (see above). Kenny is a young rabbit whose two friends – George, a retired dragon slayer (now bookseller) and Grahame, a peaceful and highly sophisticated dragon – are being forced to fight by overwrought townspeople. Clever and satisfying. For ages 8 and up.
  The Saint George and the Dragon Education Pack, intended to supplement a mummers’ performance at the British Warwick Arts Centre, has many suggestions for discussions and activities.
Versions of the mummers’ folk-play of Saint George can be found here or here


  Jack Prelutsky’s The Dragons Are Singing Tonight! (Greenwillow, 1998) is a collection of 17 clever poems about dragons, among them “I Have a Dozen Dragons,” “Nasty Little Dragonsong,” and “I am Boom!” Gorgeously illustrated by Peter Sis. For ages 4-8.
  Dragon Poems by John Foster and Korky Paul (Oxford University Press, 2004) is a marvelously illustrated collection of 23 poems by many different poets, among them X.J. Kennedy, Lilian Moore, and William Jay Smith. For ages 5-11.
  Ogden Nash’s classic The Tale of Custard the Dragon (Little, Brown, 1998) is the rhyming tale of Belinda and Custard, her “realio, trulio, little pet dragon.” Custard is a coward, but he saves the day when Belinda (“brave as a barrel of bears”) is threatened by a pirate. In the sequel Custard the Dragon and the Wicked Knight, Custard saves Belinda from the wicked Sir Garagoyle.
The text of both poems is online at Two Adventures of Custard the Dragon
A musical version of Custard is sung by Dennis Massa.
  Custard the Dragon and the Wicked Knight Lesson Plan includes  a recipe for Dragon Custard.
  Dragon Poem is a lesson plan from the Denver Art Museum in which students learn about Chinese dragons and then write poems inspired by the Summer Dragon Robe from the museum’s collection. Pair this one with Create a Chinese Dragon, a complementary lesson plan from the Chicago Art Institute.
  Puff the Magic Dragon – surely the world’s best-known dragon song – is from Peter, Paul, and Mary’s Peter, Paul, and Mommy album (Warner Brothers), available on audio CD.


  From Animal Planet, Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real, narrated by Patrick Stewart, is a fascinating look at how dragons might have lived and how they might have evolved, with incredible computer-graphic imagery (from the company that created Walking With Dinosaurs).
Animal Planet’s Dragons website has previews, educational resources, puzzles, and dragon e-cards.
  In the popular BBC series Merlin, now headed for its fifth season, the key Arthurian characters are all teenagers and Camelot is under the thumb of the despotic Uther Pendragon, who has banned magic from the realm and imprisoned the Great Dragon, Kilgarrah (voiced by John Hurt). The young wizard Merlin, sent to Camelot to study with Gaius, the court physician, is mentored by the dragon, who tells him that his destiny is to protect Arthur, the future king. Many exciting episodes. Available on DVD and Blu-Ray.
See BBC: Merlin for episode summaries, a character list, video clips, games, and quizzes.
  In the 1977 Disney movie Pete’s Dragon, nine-year-old orphan Pete has run away from his awful guardians in company with Elliott, a huge (invisible) green cartoon dragon. They end up in Passamaquody, Maine, where Pete is taken in by Nora (Helen Reddy) and her father Lampie (Mickey Rooney), the lighthouse keepers. Then a nefarious snake-oil salesman arrives in town, determined to capture the dragon and use him for making medicine. All ends happily, with Elliott a hero and Pete settled in a good home. And there’s some great music. Rated G.
  In the film Dragonheart (1996), Draco, the last of the dragons (voiced by Sean Connery), and Bowen, a disillusioned dragon slayer, join forces and inspire the people to overthrow their evil king, Einon. Rated PG-13 for violence.


  See Activity Village’s Dragons! has dragon crafts and printables, including a video tutorial for making an origami dragon and instructions for making dragon puppets, egg-carton dragons, handprint dragons, and more.
  Enchanted Learning’s Dragons has instructions for making a dancing paper dragon toy, coloring pages, and information about such dragon-related topics as Komodo dragons, the constellation Draco, dinosaur fossils, the flag of Wales, and Sir Francis (“the Dragon”) Drake.
  Chinese Dragon Puppet has illustrated instructions for making a wonderful puppet with a folding spring center. 
  Dragon Hat has instructions for making a fantastic dragon hat from newspaper. 
  Paper Plate Dragon Crafts for Kids has instructions for a particularly nice paper-plate dragon.
  Seven Dragons is a domino-like card game from Looney Labs in which players compete to connect the seven panels representing their color-coded dragon (red, gold, green, blue, or black). The cards are illustrated with paintings by fantasy artist Larry Elmore. For 2-5 players ages 6 and up. About $15.
  We started playing the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons with our kids when they were 5, 7, and 8 – and found, just like the website says, that it was a wonderful experience of imaginative, shared storytelling and social interaction.  (It’s also good for geometry, since sooner or later you have to learn the names for all those polyhedral dice.)
  Best for beginners is the Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set, also known as the “classic red box.” About $20.
  Dragon Cave is an online interactive adventure in which kids find and hatch a dragon egg and then raise a dragon.
  With David Kawami’s Cut & Assemble Paper Dragons That Fly (Dover Publications, 1987), plus scissors, paper clips, glue, and a straight edge, kids can made eight colorful (flying) paper dragon models. $6.95.
  Ed Emberley’s Drawing Book of Animals (Little, Brown, 2006) uses step-by-step instructions and a library of simple shapes to show kids how to draw dozens of animals, among them a wonderful dragon. For ages 7 and up.
  How to Draw Dragons is a humorous tutorial on how to draw a particularly adorable dragon (Cedric) by award-winning author/illustrator Emily Gravett.
  Sandra Staples’s 160-page Drawing Dragons (“Learn to Create Fantastic Fire-Breathing Dragons!” (Ulysses Press, 2008) has detailed instructions for making pencil drawings of truly wonderful (and elaborate) dragons. For ages 10 and up.
  Build a 3-D Chinese dragon from a Woodcraft construction kit. The dragon, assembled, is about a foot long, and consists of 62 interlocking pieces. All the pieces are pre-cut; no glue or tools needed. About $9; available from http://www.amazon.com.

(Mostly) Real Dragons

  From the American Museum of Natural History, Mythic Creatures has information about dragons and other mythical creatures, and accounts of the living animals or fossils that may have inspired their stories. Included at the site are educational resources, projects for kids, and illustrations, video clips, and podcasts.
  Marty Crump’s Mysteries of the Komodo Dragon (Boyds Mills Press, 2010) is a fascinating 40-page account of the world’s largest lizard, the ten-foot-long Indonesian Komodo dragon, whose deadly saliva (“dragon drool”) is a current subject of scientific research. Illustrated with maps and color photographs. For ages 8-13.
  The scoop on Komodo Dragons (the national animal of Indonesia).
  Sheila Cole’s The Dragon in the Cliffs (Backinprint, 2005) is a novel based on the life of fossil-hunter Mary Anning, who began her career with the discovery of an ichthyosaur skeleton in a cliff along the beach in 1811, when she was just 13. For ages 10 and up.
  From Biologica, Dragon Genetics is a lesson plan in which kids explore the difference between genotype and phenotype with dragons.


  The Dragon’s Eggs is an interactive game for early elementary students featuring a flying dragon that teaches odd and even number concepts.
  Dragon Curve (also known as a Jurassic Park Fractal) has instructions for making one by paperfolding. (See the Table of Contents at the site for background information on fractals, Java applets, and other examples of fractals.)
  In Cindy Neuschwander’s Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi (Charlesbridge Publishing, 1999), Sir Cumference gulps down a potion that turns him into a dragon and his son Radius must find the magic number (pi) to restore him to human shape. For ages 7-11.
  At the Magical Math-ical Dragon Project, kids invent their own dragonish math stories and make a papercraft foil-scaled dragon.


  Draco the Dragon has myths based on the constellation Draco, a list of the stars that make up Draco (including Thuban that, 5000 years ago, was the North Star), and helpful instructions for finding Draco in the night sky.
  For more information and help on locating Draco and dozens of other constellations, a helpful book for beginners is H.A. Rey’s now-updated Find the Constellations (Houghton Mifflin, 2008), filled with accessible information and lots of clever kid-friendly diagrams.




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