Picturing dragons: a selection of books featuring dragons for readers of all ages

There's nothing quite like a dragon to get the imagination whirring. Here's a selection of the best books featuring dragons for children of all ages (and adults too...)


Tell Me a Dragon
by Jackie Morris, published by Graffeg (2018)

This gorgeously illustrated large-format picturebook introduces a ‘dreaming of dragons’ - one per double spread - depicted alongside their human companions in a series of different environments, together with lyrical descriptions highlighting the main attributes of each reptile. There’s also a section containing information about dragons from different cultures, but it’s very much a subsidiary to the main act. 

Luminous, sweeping artwork gives the impression that we are looking through windows, that we might even be able to step through them into other worlds. Hints and details are included, designed to get our imaginations whirring, and every picture could be the start of an exciting journey into storytelling, drama, movement, music and poetry.


Thinking and talking

Which dragon appeals to you most, and why?

Does the text answer all your questions? Why/why not? How does this make you feel? What could you add?

What would you like to ask the human companions of these dragons?


Activity starters

Imagine you can step into one of these pictures. What can you hear, smell and taste? How do you feel? What happened just before the events shown in your picture, and what will happen next? What can you see that readers of the book can’t see? What do you know that they don’t? Tell a story inspired by your picture.

Choose a spread and list all the information it offers about the environment, dragon and human companion that it depicts. What else would you like to know? If you were going to interview the human in your chosen picture, what would you ask? Roleplay in pairs, then write about your chosen dragon from the point of view of its human companion.

Experiment with watercolours, then use to paint a new dragon not depicted in this book.



The Night Dragon
by Naomi Howarth, published by Lincoln Children's (2018)

Maud’s brothers and sisters are a bunch of bullies who tease and taunt her, saying that she isn’t a proper Night Dragon. Maud doesn’t think she’ll ever be able to soar across the sky breathing grey smoke and ushering in the darkness like her siblings. But one day they fall asleep without doing their duty and at last Maud has a chance to prove them wrong. She's almost too frightened to set off, but her little friend Mouse helps Maud believe in herself, and soon the pair discover Maud’s secret talent. She can breathe multicoloured smoke! Could the world be about to experience its first sunset? Full of gorgeous artwork and telling a gently appealing story aimed at those aged 3-6 or thereabouts, Naomi Howarth’s picturebook comes with a smattering of humorous detail and a dash of sly wit – which, alongside memorable depictions of a dragon like no other, will be enough to engage older readers who enjoy time spent in the company of such beasts. 


Thinking and talking   

How does Maud find the courage to be herself and stand up to the bullying? Does believing in yourself mean you can do anything?

If you had a special power to change something in the world, what would you do? What would happen as a result?


Activity starters

This book explains how the first beautifully-coloured sunset happened. Is it true? How do you know? Can you come up with stories to explain how other natural events first came about? 

What can Maud see as she flies above the land? Examine the artwork to find out. What would a dragon’s eye view tell you about your house, school or neighbourhood? Look at satellite images and aerial photographs to help you make sense of it, then make a picture map.

Ask children to paint and decorate scallop-shaped scales - look at the endpapers for close-up inspiration! - then collage onto a background to create a large-scale picture of Maud.

Do Maud’s rowdy siblings ever learn to be kind and mend their ways? How? Tell the story. What happens next?

 

There is No Dragon in This Story by Lou Carter and Deborah Allwright, published by Bloomsbury (2017)

The dragon in this book doesn’t like fighting and has gone off in a huff, looking for a better one. The trouble is that nobody wants a dragon in their story – until the sun goes out and they find his fiery skills are just what they require! This cheerful picturebook plays games with familiar fairytales and brings readers on board to share the joke. 


Thinking and talking

Why is the dragon trying to find a new story? What difficulties does he encounter?

What are story-dragons usually like? How does this dragon differ from the stereotype?


Activity starters

How many references to fairytales can you spot? Make a list and talk about the main events in each. Draw one of the stories as a strip cartoon like the one at the end of this book. What happens if you mix events and characters from different stories? Draw the result.

Collect patterned and plain fabrics and papers in sun-colours and use to make an enormous sun-ray collage like the illustration in this book. Talk about sun-safety and add informative notes to your display. 

Look at the darkened silhouettes. Investigate using a sheet, a tablelamp and a collection of toy characters, then explore their shadows outside on a sunny day.  

 

How to Light Your Dragon by Didier Lévy and Fred Benaglia, published by Thames and Hudson (2019)

Has your pet dragon’s fire gone out? Don’t worry, this book is packed with suggestions to get him breathing fire again, from giving him a good shake to making him jealous in the oven shop. Nothing? You’ll just have to stick red and yellow paper on his nose and pretend they’re flames – or you could talk about the fun you’ve had together and tell him that you love him, fire or not. Sometimes a great big kiss on the nose can make all the difference….

Illustrated with subversive wit and a very modern take on mid-century styling, this irreverent but ultimately satisfying tale pokes gentle fun at ‘How To’ guides and advice columns and will please a wider age range than you might expect. 


Thinking and talking

Do you have a pet? How do you care for it? Who do you go to for advice about your pet? What do they tell you? Is it good advice?

What do you think of this book’s advice? Is it helpful? What does the dragon make of it? How can you tell?

Based on this book, what can we say that we ‘know’ about dragons?


Activity starters

Mime the actions and reactions of dragon and owner throughout this book while a third person reads the text. Develop into performances, then showback, discuss and amend as necessary before sharing with a new audience. Record your experiences through photography, video, drawing and writing.

Look at the dragon on each spread. He’s very expressive! What do you think he could be thinking and feeling? Add post-its recording your ideas. Then do the same thing for the dragon’s owner, using post-its of a different colour.  Write a dialogue between the two, using your post-its to help you.

Inspired by the final spread, create a rainbow-fire-breathing dragon mural. Ask children to write about things they love or that make them happy and display alongside.

 

Franklin and Luna Go To the Moon by Jen Campbell and Katie Harnett, published by Thames and Hudson (2018)

Franklin the dragon is large and green and sneezes fluorescent blue flames but he doesn’t know where he comes from and can’t remember his family. A quest to find them takes Franklin and his friend Luna around the world, where they discover lots of unexpected sights  (including vampires reading Shakespeare and tooth fairies in ice-cream vans) but there’s no sign of a dragon. It isn’t until Luna notices something through her telescope that they decide to extend their search to the Moon – and on the way there Franklin begins to recognize his surroundings. Sure enough, among the many marvels on the Moon are Franklin’s relatives, and much fun is had by all before Franklin and Luna return home armed with a map.


Thinking and talking

There’s lots here to notice and enjoy, with plenty of one-liners that will set imaginations whirring. Who would you like to have met on Franklin and Luna’s journey around the world? Which activity would you have chosen to do on the Moon? 

What does Neil Armstrong the tortoise make of these adventures? What does he notice and how does he feel? Talk about events from his perspective.


Activity starters

Look at a map of the world. What might Luna and Franklin have seen as they flew round the globe?  Where could their adventures have happened? Draw your own map and mark your chosen locations. Can you discover five interesting facts about each of these places? Develop one of the adventures into a story, using information you’ve discovered to give your writing depth and make it more vivid.

Use the pictures to help you imagine what Space might have looked like, felt like, sounded like and smelled like as Luna and Franklin made their way to the Moon. There’s no gravity in Space, and very little on the Moon. What might low-gravity feel like? Explore the idea through dance and movement, then find music to help you extend your performance. Collect words to describe an imaginary journey to the Moon and write about it.

 

The Dragon Machine by Helen Ward and Wayne Anderson, published by Templar (2003)

George is used to being ignored and overlooked. It gives him plenty of time to notice things that other people miss, like dragons. George can see them everywhere – on telephone wires, in dustbins – and befriends them. But dragons are mischievous and George soon realizes they’re making themselves far too visible for their own good. 

“Here be dragons,” it says at the edge of an old map, so George constructs a magnificent dragon-shaped flying machine and leads his flock to safety in the wilderness. But will his family notice that he’s gone? And if they do, will they be able to find him?

The whimsical and atmospheric artwork in this book pleases older readers as well as younger ones, and there is much to fire imaginations and inspire creative cross-curricular projects.


Thinking and talking

If you had dragons, where would you take them and what would you do? How would you care for them?

Do you ever feel unseen, ignored or overlooked? What do you enjoy about being alone?  What can you do to help somebody’s who’s feeling lonely? 


Activity starters

Go on an expedition to find places and things in your neighbourhood that are ‘unseen and overlooked’.  Pretend you’re dragon experts – where would they hide? What can you spot? Make a sketchmap of the area, marking your special locations and finds, along with notes about the dragons you’ve observed.

Draw labelled diagrams of flying machines and construct models using found objects including cogs, washers and other small metallic items. Weigh your models and compare them. How do heavy machines fly? Find out about aeroplanes, helicopters and rockets, and compare with what you can learn about the way birds and insects fly. Make dragons that will glide or float by adapting paper aeroplanes or adding lightweight wings and tails to helium balloons. 

George’s machine has a beginning, a middle and a (tail) end, like a story. Tell or write the story of this book from the point of view of one of George’s dragons. What happened when you arrived in the wildnerness? 

 

Joan Procter Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles by Patricia Valdez and Felicita Sala, published by Andersen Press (2018)

“What kind of woman runs a reptile house?”

Joan didn’t play with dolls, she played with lizards, and when she became curator of the Natural History Museum’s reptile collection, those that knew her weren’t surprised. Women weren’t expected to take such roles but times were changing. Joan went on to design the reptile house at London Zoo and achieved widespread media attention in the late 1920’s when she treated a Komodo Dragon for a mouth infection. This picturebook tells an engaging story with immense style and, like its heroine, it has a strong and eccentric heart. 


Thinking and talking

How would you describe Joan? How did her approach to life and work differ from most girls born at the same time?

This picturebook tells a true story, but it isn’t a standard non-fiction book. What did you like about this approach? Was there anything you’d change? Can you think of any other books you’ve read like this? 

Has this book raised any questions for you? How could you find answers, or learn more about its subject?

Activity starters

Find out about reptiles – including Komodo Dragons – and create an information book or display.

Visit a zoo to discover how reptiles and other wild creatures are housed and cared for today. Or invite somebody with a pet reptile to talk about what it needs and how they look after it.

Write and illustrate an imaginary entry in a zoo guidebook for a dragon, using what you know about reptiles to help you make your contribution sound more realistic and convincing.  

 

The Boy Who Grew Dragons by Andy Shepherd, illustrated by Sara Ogilvie, published by Piccadilly (2018)

There’s a strange plant in Grandad’s garden. Tomas can’t believe his eyes when a tiny dragon hatches out of it, but things really hot up when he takes his new pet to school! This warm-hearted chapter-book for newly confident readers is illustrated throughout with line drawings by Sara Ogilvie.

Thinking and talking

Have you cared for a pet? What do pets need? What would you do if you had a pet dragon?

Do you think Tomas handles the situations in this story well? Would you have advised him to act differently? What would you suggest?

Activity starters

Do some library-based research like Tomas, then write and illustrate your own World Guide to Dragons.

Investigate a selection of fruit, including lesser-known varieties. What do they feel and smell like? What can you hear when you tap or shake them? How heavy are they? Do they remind you of anything? Use pencils, pastels and other media to draw them. Cut and taste them, then draw their cross-sections. Write about what you’ve observed and discovered. 

Imagine a magical creature is hatching from one of these fruits. What does it look like? Draw and name your creature. Tell the story of what happens when you take it to school.


How to Train Your Dragon: The Incomplete Book of Dragons 
by Cressida Cowell, published by Hodder (2016)

“Barbarians don’t write books!” yells Stoick the Vast, Viking Chief of the Hairy Hooligan Tribe. But there are many dangerous dragons inhabiting the Barbaric Archipelago and Stoick’s son Hiccup figures that survival depends on knowing all there is to know about them– how fast they are, how they like to attack, how terrifying they are – and has long since worked out that compiling a field guide would be a Very Good Idea.

Narrated by Hiccup and liberally annotated with whatever comes to mind, this fully-illustrated handbook will entertain a wide age-range and expands on the dragon lore from Cressida Cowell’s bestselling series of middle-grade novels.


Thinking and talking

Which is the most dangerous dragon in this book? Which is the least dangerous? Make a case for your decisions. 

What else do we learn about in this book? What can we say about Hiccup’s family and daily life as a result of reading it


Activity starters

Choose a dragon and write a newspaper-style report about an encounter with it. What happened? Who witnessed the event and what did they say about it?

Using the cards at the back of this book as a model, make cards for the other dragons in this book and play a Trumps-style game with them, inventing rules and modifying them until you find a set that leads to the best game-play. Write an explanation of the game for someone who hasn’t played before and organize a knockout Dragon Trumps competition. 

How dangerous are these dragons? Analyse the figures and create graphs, charts and other infographics to show what you’ve learned. 

Look at the examples of Dragonese on p116. Pretend you’re Toothless. How would you say these phrases? Invent more sentences in Dragonese for Toothless to say. Working in pairs, imagine that Hiccup is trying to train Toothless and create a dialogue.


For more dragon-inspired reading adventures, try…

George and the Dragon by Chris Wormell, published by Puffin

Ignis by Gina Wilson and P. J. Lynch, published by Walker Books 

How To Tame Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell, published by Hodder 

Dare to Care: Pet Dragon by Sally Symes and Mark Robertson, published by Lincoln Books

Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke, published by  Chicken House

Dragonology published by Templar

Copyright: Cast of Thousands 2019 All rights reserved.
This article/information may be printed freely for use in schools and other learning settings but may not be reproduced in any other format without the permission of Cast of Thousands

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