Jerdine Nolen
Illustrated by Elise Primavera

HMH Books for Young Readers / 40 pages / 1 edition (September 1, 2002)

ISBN: 0152165363

Until you spend some time anchored in the children’s section of your local book superstore, it probably doesn’t occur to you just how many titles fit into the science fiction and fantasy genres. (Fortunately, real horror doesn’t kick in until the Young Adult category, or until they start to read the newspapers.) Fairies, elves, magical lands — all abound in picture books and first-readers. Most of these books, to this point, have not reached out to include minorities.

Until now.

Raising Dragons reaches out to welcome African-American children into the wonderful territory of unrestrained imagination. With vibrant colours and a beguiling story, Primavera and Nolen create a fantasy land on Earth. It’s quite possible that this fantastical situation may exist only in a child’s mind, but that is real enough for the very young.

On a farm in rural Somewhere, a young girl stumbles upon a strange discovery: a single, huge egg. The egg, she decides, needs care and protection, and she is eager to take it in. Her parents, in fact, appear to be unable (or unwilling) to see the egg. Even more oddly, they do not acknowledge the rapidly growing, fire-breathing dragon which hatches from the egg.

>It certainly is no accident that the unnamed girl in the story is an only child. Or, that she lives in friendless isolation in the expanses of a working farm. Even her obviously loving parents appear too busy keeping the farm running to spend much time playing with the child. What youngster has more need of a fertile imagination? Either the dragon exists in reality or it lives in her mind, but is the truth really important to the little girl?

The friends of our youth are in many ways one of the aids that get us through the minefield of growing up. If no one else can see or hear our companions, that doesn’t erase the support they provide. Or make our adventures less exciting. Imagination is one of the strong traits we can encourage to help us through life. Reading is one of the best ways to cultivate that active imagination. Books like Raising DragonsĀ are essential tools for this enrichment.

It’s nice to have adult opinions on children’s books, but awards and reviews mean nothing if children don’t enjoy them. Raising Dragons passed the test with my five-year-old niece and two-year-old nephew. After one reading, I asked her if she liked it.

Yes. Did she like it or really like it? She really liked it. And claimed my review copy. During my next visit, my nephew pulled the book out for me to read it to him. When we finished, he tucked it under his arm and proclaimed it his favourite. Like any child, his favourites shift without warning, but to be number one for even awhile is an honour for a book.

And, especially nice when it is a book that so richly deserves it.