May 26, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Beasts of Lore: Dragons | Focus On


Beowulf’s fiery nemesis, Tolkien’s dwarf-munching Smaug, the sinuous creatures of Chinese folklore—throughout literary history, dragons have captured the imagination as worthy foes and wise ancients. Dragon encounters test human mettle and ingenuity. Their majestic presence cannot help but inspire awe, even when they try to fricassee our favorite heroes. The current explosion of dragon literature owes a great deal to landmark titles like Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown, whose dragon infected an entire kingdom with evil thoughts, and Anne McCaffrey’s science fiction “Dragonriders of Pern” series, which imagined dragons as the product of selective breeding. The next generation of dragon books was equally entrancing. Patricia C. Wrede’s dragon Kazul of the “Enchanted Forest Chronicles,” J.K. Rowling’s dragons that only Hagrid could love, and Cressida Cowell’s “How to Train Your Dragon” series all built on the popularity of these wily, treasure-hungry reptiles. Throw in George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones and Christopher Paolini’s Eragon, and dragons are more a genre than a trend. Whether it’s a tale of the dragon bully on the playground or dragons whose rapacious hunger threatens human survival, these dragon titles will soar off the shelves. Dragons spark curricular connections as well as the imagination. For example, use Lou Anders’s Frostborn to compare and contrast Viking mythology motifs for an entertaining way to incorporate Common Core State Standards (CCSS) with fiction reading.

For Hatchlings

BAKER , Ken. Old MacDonald Had a Dragon. illus. by Christopher Santoro. Amazon. 2012. ISBN 9780761461753.
K-Gr 2 –Despite the protests of the other farm animals, Old MacDonald loves his fire-breathing dragon, until its penchant for gobbling the other farm animals causes temporary chaos. Digital illustrations evoke a dragon more silly than menacing.
CCSS Connection Kindergarten: Referencing the text, discuss the different animals and the vocabulary used to describe them. Understand how the author’s use of wordplay creates humor. CC.K.SL.2

BAR-EL, Dan. Not Your Typical Dragon. illus. by Tim Bowers. Viking. 2013. ISBN 9780670014026.
PreS-Gr 2 –Crispin isn’t a fire-breathing dragon like his parents and friends, but when circumstances demand it, he proves he’s as brave as any dragon. Slightly goofy illustrations depict a lovable protagonist and ham up this silly tale of accepting differences.
CCSS Connection Kindergarten: Use context to understand words like gravely, blistering, and disappointed. CC.K.R.L.4

GLIORI, Debi. Dragon’s Extraordinary Egg. illus. by author. Bloomsbury. 2014. ISBN 978-0-8027-3759-5.
PreS-Gr 1 –Bib’s mommy reads him a story about the time dragons came to live in their icy realm. Smudged charcoal backgrounds denote the austere landscape and provide contrast for the warm, orange dragons. The penguin-dragon blended household sends a gentle message about family love. A sneaky ending will please attentive readers.
CCSS Connection Grade 1: Using the text, describe the connection between Bib and the dragons. CC.1.R.I.3

KIRK, David. Oh So Brave Dragon. illus. by author. Feiwel & Friends. 2014. ISBN 9781250016898.
PreS-K –Short, repetitive sentences and gentle humor depict a demure young dragon who helps other forest animals be courageous. Varied layouts filled with dragon-tailed swirls keep the story fresh. Dragon’s vibrant coloring and softly rounded snout make him friendly rather than fearsome.
CCSS Connection Kindergarten: Using the illustrations, explain to others when Dragon is afraid and when he is brave. CC.K.R.I.7

LIGHT, Steve. Have You Seen My Dragon? illus. by author. Candlewick. 2014. ISBN 9780763666484.
PreS-K –This dragon counting book sprawls across New York City as a boy searches for his escaped pet. Pen-and-ink illustrations detail the sinuous dragon and city features in black-and-white scenes with bright pops of color. Hunt for the dragon on every page before he ends up back where he belongs—in Chinatown!
CCSS Connection Kindergarten: With support, and primary source photographs, identify and discuss landmarks from the book. CC.K.R.I.9

MEISTER, Cari. Sea Dragons. (Life Under the Sea). Bullfrog. 2015. ISBN 9781624961687.
PreS-Gr 2 –Straightforward text and crisp photographs introduce ocean-dwelling sea dragons, tiny bony fish whose delicate limbs resemble their mythical namesakes. Meister’s book provides a starting point for discussions about ocean camouflage and new vocabulary. While the text can be redundant, it encourages children to discover information from context clues.
CCSS Connection Kindergarten: Use the book’s illustrations to make predictions about the meaning of provided vocabulary words. CC.K.R.I.4


For Dragonets

BAILLIE, Allan. DragonQuest. illus. by Wayne Harris. Candlewick. 2013. ISBN 9780763666170.
K-Gr 3 –A dragon warrior encourages a young boy to join a perilous quest to find the elusive winged beast. Text that resembles an epic poem encourages the duo to greater feats of courage and daring. Harris’s shifting perspectives and use of texture give bite to the pursuit. A surprise ending will prompt readers to think about their own choices.
CCSS Connection Grade 2: Explain the main character’s decision at the end of the book. CC.2.R.L.3

BRESLIN, Theresa. The Dragon Stoorworm. illus. by Matthew Land. Picture Kelpies. 2014. ISBN 9781782501176.
Gr 1-4 –In this Scottish origin folktale, the diffident poet Assipattle and independent Princess Gemdelovely defeat a rampaging dragon using wit and bravery. The story, whose love connection has been updated for modern readers, is enhanced by Land’s delicate, winsome illustrations evoking the ruggedly beautiful Scottish terrain.
CCSS Connection Grade 1: Using text and illustrations, explain the connection between the dragon and the topography of Scotland. Refer to a map of Scotland as a primary source connection. CC.1.R.L.7

NEUBECKER, Robert. Days of the Knights. illus. by author. (Tales of the Time Dragon). Scholastic. 2014. ISBN 9780545548984.
Gr 1-3 –Red the Time Dragon acts as tour guide to Joe and Lilly in this time-travel series opener. Set in the Middle Ages, the leveled reader provides short, narrative nonfiction, while bright pictures add a whimsical story line. Think “Magic Tree House” for a younger crowd.
CCSS Connection Grade 1: Using the text, identify interesting information about medieval history, and use additional sources to deepen understanding and knowledge. CC.1.W.7,8

PEET, Mal & Elspeth Graham. Night Sky Dragons. illus. by Patrick Benson. Candlewick. 2014. ISBN 9780763661441.
Gr 1-4 –Yazul lives in a remote Han fort on China’s Silk Road trading route, and his love of tricks earns him kitchen duty for weeks. Can Yazul’s ingenious dragon kites help defeat bandits laying siege to the Han? Soft pen-and-watercolor illustrations depict the Han’s isolation and its close-knit community.
CCSS Connection Grade 2: Use additional nonfiction materials to research the history and design of Chinese kites. CC.2.W.7

WARNER, Sally. EllRay Jakes the Dragon Slayer! illus. by Brian Biggs. Viking. 2013. ISBN 9780670784974.
Gr 2-4 –EllRay’s “dragon” is Suzette Monahan, who bullies his sister, Alfie, at school. Even as EllRay puzzles out how to deal with this fire-breathing preschooler, he has his own recess problems to address. EllRay’s frank first-person narration gives this short chapter book offering its snappy humor, while black-and-white illustrations break up the text. Audio version available from Recorded Books.
CCSS Connection Grade 3: Using the text, compare and contrast EllRay’s playground problems to those of his sister. CC.3.R.L.9

For Treasure- Seeking Wyrms

ANDERS, Lou. Frostborn. (Thrones and Bones). Crown. 2014. ISBN 9780385387781.
Gr 4-8 –Viking mythology swirls as human Karn and half-giant Thianna form an unlikely friendship after fleeing wyvern-riding assassins. Karn’s love of the board game “Thrones and Bones” is a motif sure to catch children’s attention. Cunning trumps brute force, and self-knowledge drives character development. Stay tuned for sequels. Audio version available from Listening Library.
CCSS Connection Grade 6: Compare motifs in Anders’s story to Viking motifs, noting similarities and differences. CC.6.W.9.a

BARNHILL, Kelly . Iron Hearted Violet. Little, Brown. 2012. ISBN 9780316056731.
Gr 5-8 –Pining as her father and her friend Demetrius seek the last dragon in the Andulan Realms, Princess Violet contacts an evil buried deep in the castle whose presence may topple the foundations of the world. To counteract it, Violet must harness the power of story and love. Audio version available from AudioGO.
CCSS Connection Grade 6: Citing the text, discuss the theme of the novel and how Violet’s decisions illustrate the author’s message. CC.6.R.I.2, CC.6.R.L.2

CLARK, Platte F. Fluff Dragon. (The Bad Unicorn Trilogy). S. & S./Aladdin. 2014. ISBN 9781442450158.
Gr 4-7 –After bravely defeating a robotic unicorn (Bad Unicorn, 2014), Max and his friends keep their promise to save dragons from extinction using the Codex of Infinite Knowability to defeat evil sorcerer Rezormoor Dreadbringer. A complex cast of characters and gaming metaphors will bring infinite pleasure to die-hard fantasy lovers.
CCSS Connection Grade 6: Create a list of the book’s many characters, and, using the text, explain their goals. Citing evidence, debate if their motives are good or selfish. CC.6.SL.1.d

HARRELL, Rob. Monster on the Hill. illus. by author. Top Shelf Productions. 2013. ISBN 9781603090759.
Gr 4-7 –Monster Rayburn is a failure at scaring his townspeople. Assisted by town crier Timothy and crackpot scientist Charles Wilkie, Rayburn polls other monsters about successful scare tactics, but his absence allows an ancient evil to threaten his town. This graphic novel set in a pseudo-proper 1860s England sports lovable monsters and witty dialogue in large, clear text boxes.
CCSS Connection Grade 5: Citing the illustrations, discuss how artistic choices play into character development. CC.5.R.L.7

HASKELL, Merrie. Handbook for Dragon Slayers. HarperCollins. 2013. ISBN 9780062008169.
Gr 4-7 –Tilda doubts her right to be princess of Alder Brook because she has a lame foot. Escaping her cousin’s kidnapping attempt, Tilda and her friends Judith and Parz decide to hunt dragons, but magical distractions ensue. Personal growth and merry questing share top billing in this thoughtful fantasy.
CCSS Connection Grade 5: What does Tilda learn as a result of her journey? How do those lessons relate to the theme of the book? CC.5.R.L.2

MCKAY, Laurie. Villain Keeper. (The Last Dragon Charmer Series). HarperCollins. 2015. ISBN 978006 2308436.
Gr 5-8 –An enchantment sweeps Prince Caden and his frenemy Brynne from dragon-laden Razzon to modern day Asheville, NC. Caden suspects magical exiles from his world could be responsible for a middle school girl’s disappearance. His attempts to understand modern technology and school conventions inject humor into this series opener.
CCSS Connection Grade 7: Imagine someone from another world visited our planet. Discuss which Earth conventions (cell phones, hula hoops, etc.) they might find strange. Write humorous short stories about the encounter. CC.7.R.I.4.

SELFORS, Suzanne. The Rain Dragon Rescue. illus. by Dan Santat. (The Imaginary Veterinary). Little, Brown. 2014. ISBN 9780316225571.
Gr 3-6 –Junior assistants at Dr. Woo’s imaginary animal veterinary practice, Ben and Pearl investigate a light-fingered dragon and end up traveling to another dimension seeking a rare rain dragon. This lively adventure told from the children’s perspective emphasizes self-reliance, problem solving, and sacrifice as well as respect for animals.
CCSS Connection Grade 3: Using the text or secondary research materials, discuss different types of dragons and their origins. CC.3.R.L.2

SUTHERLAND, Tui T. The Dragonet Prophecy. (Wings of Fire). Scholastic. 2012. ISBN 9780545349239.
Gr 4-7–The Dragonet Prophecy claims that five young dragons will end war, but Mudwing Clay and his friends just want to see the world. Dragon Queen Scarlet captures the dragonets, and only their special gifts can save them. The intricacies of different dragon species and enduring friendships will hold readers spellbound.
CCSS Connection Grade 4: Using details from the text, create drawings of each of the dragonets. CC.4.SL.5

TREVAYNE, Emma. Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times . S. & S. 2014. ISBN 9781442498778.
Gr 5-8 –Ten-year-old Jack Foster gladly leaves 1899 London and his apathetic parents. Following the shifty spiritualist Lorcan through a doorway, he enters the alternative, steampunk world of Londinium with its mercurial ruler. Jack wonders if the legendary mechanical dragon Gearwing can bring balance to this unjust society. Fantastical characters and deeply held beliefs humanize this starkly alien world.
CCSS Connection Grade 7: Using examples from the text, explain the role of mechanical gadgets in the novel. CC.7.R.I.3

WEIGEL, Jeff. Dragon Girl: The Secret Valley. illus. by author. Andrews McMeel. 2014. ISBN 9781449441838.
Gr 4-8 –In Weigel’s latest graphic novel, Alanna discovers a cave of dragon eggs and must shield the hatchlings from the avaricious Sir Cedric. Her whimsical, protective dragon dance dives across black-and-white panel illustrations, while a dirigible rescue adds a steampunk touch. A rocky relationship with her brother grounds the fantasy elements with its universal theme of sibling disagreement.
CCSS Connection Grade 5: Integrate information presented in different media or formats. CC.5.R.L.7

WEXLER, Django. The Forbidden Library. Penguin/Kathy Dawson Bks. 2014. ISBN 9780803739758.
Gr 4-7 –A menacing fairy precipitates Alice’s father’s disappearance, and now Alice lives with her Uncle Geryon at The Library—an enormous edifice with strange inhabitants. Different factions want to control a dragon hidden in one of the books, but Alice hopes her power to enter books will keep her alive. Audio version available from Listening Library.
CCSS Connection Grade 6: Using the text, sequence the main events in Alice’s adventures in The Library and how they lead her to the dragon. C.6.R.L.3

YEP, Laurence & Joanne Ryder. A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans. illus. by Mary GrandPré. Crown. 2015. ISBN 9780385392280.
Gr 3-6 –Miss Drake the dragon reluctantly takes on a new human “pet” in San Francisco. Magical mayhem ensues when the little girl Winnie lets loose a bunch of enchanted sketches on the neighborhood. Tongue-in-cheek dragon humor and a gentle thread of grief give the characters depth. Audio version available from Listening Library.
CCSS Connection Grade 4: Citing the text, explain how the difference between Miss Drake and Winnie’s points of view creates humor. CC.4.R.I.6

For Fire-Breathing Dragons

HAHN, Rebecca. A Creature of Moonlight. HMH. 2014. ISBN 9780544109353.
Gr 7-10– The villagers call her flower girl, but really, Marni is the daughter of a princess and a dragon. When her father’s enchanted forest beckons, Marni must decide which world holds the strongest claim on her. Conflicting family loyalties and unpredictable secondary characters make for a memorable teen fairy tale.
CCSS Connection Grade 9: Discuss the intersection of politics and family loyalty in the story. CC.9-10.R.I.3

HARTMAN, Rachel. Shadow Scale. (Seraphina). Random. 2015. ISBN 9780375866579.
Gr 8 Up –Seraphina the ityasaari (half dragon, half human) travels to neighboring countries to locate other ityasaari and secure their help in defending Goredd from warring dragon invaders. Hartman’s intricate political framework and fully developed secondary characters make for a rich continuation of the series. Audio version available from Listening Library.
CCSS Connection Grade 10: Examining Seraphina’s dealings with ityasaari and foreign dignitaries and citing the text, are there actions she could have taken that would have prevented war and dissension? CC.9-10.R.I.2, R.I.3

JOHNSTON, E.K. The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim. Carolrhoda Lab. 2014. ISBN 9781467710664.
Gr 8 Up –Siobhan acts as bard cum publicist for her small Canadian town’s new dragon slayer, Owen. As Owen trains to take on an ever-growing hoard of dragons, Siobhan’s clever marketing techniques may give them a chance for survival. Siobhan’s dense, first-person narration brims with sophisticated dialogue and an unforgettable authorial voice.
CCSS Connection Grade 10: Discuss the ways in which Siobhan’s narrative voice influences the tone of the work. CC.9-10.R.L.3, CC.9-10.R.I.6

KAGAWA, Julie. Talon. (The Talon Saga). Harlequin Teen. 2014. ISBN 97803 73211395.
Gr 8 Up –The dragon organization, Talon, places Ember and her twin Dante in California to integrate with humans, but the situation becomes explosive when the dragon-fighting order of St. George and a rogue dragon arrive in town with very different objectives. Ember’s two love interests—one human, one dragon—and covert ops action keep the pages turning.
CCSS Connection Grade 9: Using the text, cite evidence that Talon has hidden motives. CC.9-10.R.I.2

MANCUSI, Mari. Scorched. (Scorched). Sourcebooks. 2013. ISBN 9781402 284588.
Gr 7-10 –Sixteen-year-old Trinity Foxx despairs at the dragon’s egg her grandfather acquires for his archaeological museum. Two brothers arrive from the future, where dragons burned Earth and sent humans underground. Which brother should Trinity believe? Fast-paced action replete with flaming dragons will rivet readers as the three teens’ stories alternate through the novel.
CCSS Connection Grade 8: Debate Caleb and Connor’s views on dragons, citing evidence from the text. CC.8.R.I.9, CC.8.R.L.3

Caitlin Augusta is a librarian at Stratford Library in Stratford, CT.

Digital picks

Dragonbox Algebra 12+. WeWantToKnow AS. 2014. Version 2.1.5. iOS, requires 4.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. $7.99. Android, Version 2.1.5, requires 2.3 or later. $8.62. (Accessed 4/21/2015.)
Gr 6 Up –Using math principles that build in complexity, this app opens the world of algebra by making “solving for x” a fantastical challenge. Crisp graphics and quirky creatures round out a conceptually charming math resource that contains over 300 puzzles translatable into 20-plus languages.

Dragon, Fly! Four Pixels. 2014. Version 1.7. iOS, requires 8.1 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. Free, offers in-app purchases. Android. Free, offers in-app purchases. (Accessed 4/21/2015.)
PreS Up –A baby dragon flees its mama, surfing over grassy hills and other obstacles as players try to rack up points by swooping over treasures. Clear instructions for play, a simple interface, and sweet music make this a pleasant diversion for young children.

Dragon Shapes—Lumio Geometry Challenge. Lighthouse Learning. 2014. Version 2.0. iOS, requires 6.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. Free, offers in-app purchases. Android, Version 1.0.0, requires 4.0 or later. $2.99. (Accessed 4/21/2015.)
Gr 1 Up –An animated backstory about a lonely dragon introduces leveled tangram games that teach shapes, vocabulary, and geometric positioning of objects. Verbal encouragements and hints lead children through four levels of difficulty, which loosely correspond to Common Core standards for grades one to four.

This article was published in School Library Journal's June 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.



  1. This article was very helpful for collection development. Would you consider publishing something similar with a focus on unicorns? Ever since Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great my K-4’s can’t get enough of unicorns.