Not Your Typical Dragon

Written by Dan Bar-el, Illustrated by Tim Bowers
Viking, 2013

Crispin Blaze was born into a proud family of fire-breathing dragons.

The plot in a nutshell: A dragon child is dismayed when he doesn’t breathe fire like the other dragons his age

Crispin the dragon is excited about his 7th birthday, because that’s the age that all dragons start to breathe fire. But when he tries to create his first flame, to light the candles on his cake, whipped cream comes out instead. Crispin’s father takes him to the doctor, where a second attempt causes him to breathe Band-aids and, on a camping trip, he breathes marshmallows. Feeling like he’s not a real dragon, he runs away from home and finds himself challenged by Sir George, a thin and somewhat timid knight. Crispin explains his situation to Sir George and they work together to see if they can fix his problem. But nothing works, so Sir George agrees to take Crispin back to his family. Sir George’s father shows up, looking for him, and he gets into a fight with Crispin’s father, resulting in their home being set on fire. Crispin breathes a jet of water onto the flame, saving the house and at the party that follows, Crispin’s father declares him to be something special.

Somebody get some graham crackers, stat!

Somebody get some graham crackers, stat!

The idea of a main character with unique abilities that set them apart from other characters is a fairly common plotline for children’s stories, but there are a few things about this story that elevate it above the genre, in my opinion. Author Dan Bar-el makes a wonderful choice not to talk down to his audience or over explain things, which allows kids to discover some elements of the story on their own. There seems to be a rhyme and reason to the items that Crispin breathes instead of fire and I love that it’s not even mentioned in the book. Take, for example, the whipped cream he breathes on his birthday. While his parents are fretting over this apparent failure, his sister comments that she loves whipped cream. Whether he creates it to be kind to his sister or to go with the birthday cake or just because it seems like it would be useful is entirely up to your interpretation. And I liked his friendship with Sir George and the fact that, instead of mocking Crispin or pressing his advantage over a supposed enemy, Sir George offers to help him.

Illustrator Tim Bowers uses acrylic paint on illustration board to create the artwork for this book, which is cute and colorful. Dragons in this book come in all colors and there is color diversity even within Crispin’s own family. The dragons are not drawn as intimidating in any way and are, in fact, very endearing, with little snaggly teeth and tiny wings. Crispin’s father even wears glasses. This one would be a great choice to share with any kids who feel like they are the odd man out in their group.

And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that the things that make you unique can be just as surprising to you as they are to others.

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