John Ronald's Dragons: The Story of J.R.R. Tolkien

illus. by Eliza Wheeler. 48p. bibliog. Roaring Brook. Mar. 2017. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781626720923.
Gr 1–4—McAlister's picture book introduction to the life of J.R.R. Tolkien (whom she calls John Ronald) is written in simple, descriptive language—a fragment to six short sentences per page or spread. ("John Ronald was a boy who loved horses. And trees. And strange sounding words.") Critical to John Ronald's life were the "stillness, beauty, and peace" of the Catholic Church; his love of English (coming up with new languages and using them to write stories); his lifelong school friends who shared his love of literature; and his dreams of dragons and other fantastical creatures that inhabited the books read to him and his brother by their mother, who died when John Ronald was 12. After marrying, then fighting in the trenches during World War I, Tolkien taught at Oxford University, where he gave lectures, went to meetings, tutored students, and "graded many, many, exams." The world of the Hobbit and his adventures, created for Tolkien's own children, became a book in 1937. Wheeler's pencil-detailed paintings in subdued greens and yellows effectively portray Tolkien's quiet life and his ability to imagine magical creatures and places (Misty Mountains, Mirkwood Forest) in the countryside around his home. The appended illustrator's note points out elements in the pictures not mentioned in the text. An author's note offers more sophisticated facts; a bibliography lists Tolkien biographies for adults.
VERDICT This beautifully illustrated introduction to Tolkien's life for younger readers fails to provide sufficient information to satisfy those old enough to appreciate the lengthy, in-depth storytelling style of his novels.

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