Written and Illustrated by Gemma Merino
NorthSouth Books, 2013
Once upon a time, there was a little crocodile. And this little crocodile didn’t like water.
Did You Know? Crocodiles swallow stones to help grind up their food once its been eaten, since their teeth are only designed for grasping and crushing.
The little crocodile wants to play with his brothers and sisters, but they love to swim and he prefers to climb trees. He saves up his money from the tooth fairy and buys himself a swim ring, determined to play in the water with his siblings. But even though he can float, he can’t play the same games that they play. He climbs the ladder to the diving board, but can’t get the courage to jump. He doesn’t like being on his own, so one day he leaps into the water and struggles to stay afloat, which just reinforces his hatred of everything about the water. But as he recovers from his attempt to swim, his nose starts tickling and he sneezes a jet of flame and he realizes he doesn’t like water because he’s not actually a crocodile. He’s a dragon! And he lets his crocodile siblings climb on his back so he can take them flying.
This is the debut picture book from UK author/illustrator Gemma Merino and it’s absolutely delightful. The plot twist of the crocodile being a dragon comes as a really pleasant surprise, as I was expecting the crocodile to discover that he actually liked water or some such resolution to his problem. It’s a lovely open message that can take different shades of meaning, depending on the perception of the reader. I live in North Carolina, where we are currently struggling with House Bill 2, a malicious piece of legislature that promotes discrimination of our LGBQT citizens (and several other folks as well), so my takeaway from this book revolved around proudly being who you are and not being forced to fit into what others expect of you.I adore the illustrations, especially the way that the little crocodile is drawn. He’s cute and vulnerable, with a funny little overbite. Of course, astute readers will see that he’s a different shade of green than his siblings and they may even notice that the book’s front endpapers show a mother crocodile with a basket of eggs in which one is white, while all the others are blue. The back of the book shows a picture of a similar basket with one blue egg amidst the white ones and a mother reading ‘The Dragon who Didn’t Like Fire.’ This one is really charming and I’m glad to see that Ms. Merino has already published a second book, which I’ve added to my ever-expanding reading list.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that you don’t have to have the same likes and dislikes as everyone around you. You should be who you were meant to be.