Book: The Knight and the Dragon
Author and Illustrator: Tomie DePaola.
Overview: This book shows (and tells) the story of a knight and a dragon as they contend with societal expectations of how they ought to behave regarding each other.
Morals or lessons: violence isn’t the answer, even when people tell you it should be. / socialization is a real and powerful thing.
Let me preach from my sociologist soapbox for a moment. I really love how this book depicts socialization. The book starts off by telling us about a knight “who had never fought a dragon” and a nearby dragon “who had never fought a knight.” As the two prepare to do battle, we see their simultaneous non-excitement about their roles and the incredible amount of work they put into fulfilling these roles. But then (spoiler alert), when they’re given a non-violent option, they both take it and realize that they are happier that way. So, the moral is: just because things have always been done one way (especially a violent way) doesn’t mean they have to continue that way.
Age range: older baby and up.
This book is great for any young reader or audience who likes to look at pictures. It’s especially wonderful for kids who love stories aren’t quite reading yet, since so many of the pages feature only pictures (resulting in a need for storytelling without a need for reading ability).
Format: one story, thirty-two pages.
This isn’t one that’s easy to split up.
Visual/reading ease: high.
Since only some of the pages require reading, it’s very easy for those who can’t read to follow along and participate in the telling of this story.
Biggest pro: a librarian, who is also a woman, saves the day.
While there are expectations that the knight and the dragon both feel the need to live up to, it’s the librarian (a woman) who steps in and gives them another path that results in much more happiness for both of them. I like the depiction of this minor character as taking an opportunity to show people another path. And it’s pretty cool to me that instead of the woman being saved by the knight from the dragon, she’s the one encouraging the other characters to save themselves from themselves.
Biggest con: how scary the violence can be.
Because we do see fighting (and some sharp weapons, and at a few points a very ferocious-looking dragon), this isn’t a book I would recommend for sensitive young ones.
Fun factor: high.
There’s ironic humor, physical humor, and twists throughout this book. For these reasons, I enjoy it even on the hundredth reading.
How much heart: tons.
This book is enchanting in its familiarity; even though the knight and dragon are set presumably a long time ago in a land far, far away, I recognize their conundrums as ones I’ve also faced. So while littler kids will enjoy the silliness, older kids can relate to the challenge of being expected to act a certain way. That broad appeal is what gives this book heart.
Plus, Tomie DePaola has a way of bringing characters to life through both words and illustrations that just gets me every time.
Re-readability: very high.
I love all of DePaola’s books, but this is one of the more re-readable (perhaps because it’s shorter than many of the others). Also, because it’s on the storyteller(s) to verbalize the plotline on pages without words, this is a story that can be told and retold in many different ways, making it fun to return to night after night.