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I recently signed up my two year old daughter with our local library. My son is already a member via his school and both of them absolutely adore books. Their enthusiasm for new stories never tires. However just about every storage area they have available to them is dominated by masses of books. I thought therefore that the library would be a good compromise, allowing us to return them rather than hoard them!
The Trouble with Dragons by Debi Gliori is our most recent choice from the library. My daughter chose it not for herself but for her four year old brother who is fascinated by the world of dragons.
This book is currently available from Amazon at just £4.49 for paperback or £11.13 for a sturdier hardback book.
The story is a rather metaphoric one. The trouble with dragons is indeed not with dragons but rather with humans. We are shown how our world is slowly being damaged and even destroyed. For instance points are made such as "Dragons chop down forests, which melts both the poles, and puncture the atmosphere full of big holes". Towards the end of the book the animals of the world give advice to these dragons on how best to treat the Earth, such as "Eat food that is grown much closer to home and leave the wild places and ice caps alone".
The story is written in rhyme and has a good rhythm. I do prefer to read books to my children which are written in rhyme as I find them rather enjoyable to read aloud. The text is large, clear and is spaced out, with some words being positioned on their own to give particular importance to them.
The illustrations, I presume, are also by the author Debi Gliori, as there is no mention of a separate illustrator. The rather muted colours which are used give the book a slightly dated feel, though this is not an old publication (2008). I personally feel that bolder colours would enhance the images a little more. Regardless, the dragons are rather whimsical and endearing. The silhouettes used throughout create an enchanted feel which sits well with the story. The tangled ivy, home to various birds, which is seen on the front cover and towards the end of the book is rather reminiscent of a William Morris piece. Again, this gives the impression of an enchanted forest.
Both my four year old son and my two year old daughter enjoyed this book. They seemed to understand the message rather well despite their age and they were dawn in to the dragon's turmoil as I read the story to them. I personally enjoyed this book too, in fact I can honestly say that this is one of the few books, as we have read so many, that will stay in my mind and be recommended to friends who have similar aged children. I may even buy a few copies as gifts towards the end of the year. Overall this really is a very enjoyable story which has a very important message and states it very well too.
The trouble with dragons is that there are far too many of them. They consume too much, are too noisy and make a terrible mess. When they breathe fire, ice and snow melts, sea levels rise and deserts get bigger. When all the other creatures start to leave, the dragons implore them to stay. They promise to look after the planet, and the other animals give them advice on how to do this. They have to stop chopping down trees and breathing fire; they must eat food grown close to home, start recycling and look after the land.
Masquerading as a picture book, Debi Gliori's 'The Trouble with Dragons' is of course a story designed to teach young children about global warming and environmental problems in general. It's a great idea to this through the medium of a story rather than as a non-fiction text. It is likely that the children who appreciate the book will be a little older than the pre-school children for whom picture books are normally intended. Three- and four-year-olds may enjoy the story but may not fully grasp the ideas that are put forward.
The text is limited to a few lines per page, sometimes on only one side of a double spread. The font is quite elaborate, but it is large enough to be easily readable. It is almost always printed on a light-coloured background. Debi Gliori has written the story in verse with a strong rhythm and rhyme to carry the themes along. Although the subject is a serious one, the language is straightforward apart from the odd phrase such as 'puncture the atmosphere'. 'The Trouble with Dragons' is essentially a read-aloud book, but it has to be said that it is suitable for children who are slightly older than the usually audience for picture books.
Debi Gliori illustrates her picture books herself, and she does so splendidly. She uses brilliant colours alongside contrasting silhouettes, and the pages are bursting with life and energy. The dragons themselves are shocking pink or orange; as well as breathing fire they play the guitar or read to their children. There are plenty of other animals too: the title page shows two bears, a bird, a rabbit and a fox sitting forlornly on a melting iceberg. Further along we see Father Christmas rescuing a tiny mouse from a rising sea, while a dismayed bear holds Santa's hat. Yet another double-page spread shows a reindeer and an elephant giving rides to smaller animals as they to struggle with rising water levels. Landscapes include an icy forest, a bonfire against a pink starry sky, and an urban sprawl with motorways and cooling towers belching out smoke.
'The Trouble with Dragons' is a superb book for teachers or parents looking for an original way to explain environmental concerns to young children. Whether it's pollution, global warming or recycling, the issue is dealt with in a way that will arouse interest. I read it with a six-year-old boy who knew quite a bit already about recycling but had no idea of the consequences of global warming. A group of three-and-a-half-year-olds enjoyed the book purely as a story. They had recently been learning about the North and South Poles and will be looking at recycling in a couple of months, so even at that age the book has good educational value.
This is definitely a picture book worth investing in for families with children up to the age of seven. The very young can enjoy the story and the beautiful illustrations; they can perhaps name the animals or count the dragons if nothing else. Five- to seven-year-olds, on the other hand, can start to grasp ideas about climate change, use of natural resources and the problem of endangered species. 'The Trouble with Dragons' is also a great book for learning about consideration for others; the dragons only realise how much they appreciate the other animals when they start to disappear. Every infant school should definitely have a copy, and I would heartily recommend it for family libraries too.
The Trouble with Dragons
by Debi Gliori
Paperback, 32 pages
Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, 2009
Price £5.99 (Amazon £4.11)
When I first picked up 'The Trouble with Dragons' I thought it was going to be the ideal book to share with my three year old daughter and that I would transport her into a fantastical world full of amazing mythical creatures. On one level, the book does work in this way but it is also so much more than that with the sort of message that makes it entirely appropriate to share with much older children too. As a parent, I found this book absolutely stunning and have spent a wonderful time pouring over the pictures and discussing the content with both my three and five year old daughters.
The book starts by telling us that 'the trouble with dragons is... dragons make more dragons and they make some more till there are wall-to-wall dragons making dragons galore'. In fact what it seems to be telling us is that there is a population explosion of dragons. That could very well be alright but the real problem is concerned with what these dragons do and let me tell you that there behaviour is really not very good at all!Would you believe that they go around building houses and roads, eat tons of food but also waste plenty, chop down forests and blow out hot air? Obviously all this has a disastrous effect on the planet which results in everyone leaving except the dragons.
The lonely dragons are very upset by what they have done so the second half of the book concentrates on telling them how they can repair the damage. There are strong messages about not chopping down forests, eating locally grown food, walking rather than using cars and so on. At the end of the story, the author suggests that 'if you know a dragon (and most of us do) ask if it thinks if this story is true! It's certainly makes you stop and think at the end, and what is very noticeable is that we are not actually presented with a happy ending. This makes one wonder whether it was too late for the dragons to put all their wrongdoings right.
Obviously there is a very strong message in this book and I'm sure that older children will very quickly make links between the actions of the dragons and human behaviour. Even with young children they can quickly see what the dragons are doing wrong and talk about what they ought to do instead. Because of this, it's a wonderful book for helping young children to become environmentally aware and to realise what they can do to help protect the planet. I was very pleased to read on one page this message:
Respect all Earth's creatures and cherish the land,
recycle, reuse and reduce your demands'
It was good to see the three 'R's 'recycle, reuse and reduce' used and because my five year old has been learning about recycling at school we had a very animated conversation about the 'naughty' dragons and their destructive actions.
Added to the strong messages within the text are some absolutely wonderful illustrations. If you look very carefully at each picture you can pick out so many wasteful and careless things that the dragons have done. On one page we see loads of tins, bottles and other forms of debris just abandoned and on another page the entire picture is cluttered and smoky due to all the building. On every page there is so much to talk about and each time we have returned to the book we have spotted other things too.
Having said all this though, it still has a lovely storybook feel to it and this is particularly down to the fact that it's written in rhyme. This makes it a very enjoyable read and as with any story that uses rhyme, both my daughters enjoy being able to predict and supply the appropriate words.
I am absolutely delighted that we discovered 'The Trouble with Dragons'. It is such a powerful story and one that is so important to share with young children. It's a fun book though which does not preach and I am sure that it will be these types of stories which will really excite children and motivate them to do their bit!
A version of this review has already appeared under my name at www.thebookbag.co.uk