January 23rd, 2013, 9:03 pm

Culinary Book of the Week: My Father's Dragon

Following a television show requires excessive effort and time to care about the characters and study minute details. At least, that's why my older brother said during MLK weekend. The same holds for books, at least if you follow a book series and wait for each volume to arrive at the library. When neither book nor television show appears, as can happen when the Internet lies about a show returning from hiatus, the interested viewer has to find another source of dragons or fictional magic. That's how I discovered My Father's Dragon, a 1944 Newberry Honor.

Image source: http://www.toysandbooks.com/Holiday_2008_Newsletter/MyFathersDragon_h425.jpg

Featuring talking animals, a plucky young boy named Elmer, and lots of tangerines, My Father's Dragon shows how the boy in question frees a baby dragon from Wild Island, a horrendous place with hostile animal natives. The natives use the dragon to transport themselves across a crocodile-infested river, mistreating the poor creature, and kill any "invasive" outsiders that visit the island. Such hostility would turn away the bravest fisherman, but Elmer is determined to do right and acquire a dragon. Although a traveling cat provides useful advice, the boy has to travel alone on Wild Island and avoid detection, or the beasts will eat him at worst. At best the sailors will send him home to mother.

Less than a hundred pages, My Father's Dragon is a short read. It still has Elmer go through the motions of adventure, one featuring plenty of food. The story starts when he feeds the traveling cat a saucer of milk a day for three weeks, and he packs "twenty-five peanut butter sandwiches and six apples," all of which vanish in the six days he spends as a stowaway. The Wild Island animals soon find his tangerine peels, so he has to throw them away, and the crocodiles end the story with a sumptuous feast. We learn that tigers love chewing gum and crocodiles suck on lollipops with a passion. I wouldn't take this book's word for it, though, because you should never feed wild animals!

In all seriousness, however, the book taught this writer an important lesson: never make the journey easy. Elmer doesn't find the agreeable, tied-up dragon for ages, and for a good reason; he has to climb on sea rocks for seven hours, outwit several man-eating creatures, and pretend to be a bag of wheat. A gorilla with fleas and totalitarian boars have never appeared scarier. If anything, read the book for the animals and the old-fashioned illustrations.

Also, read this book for the dragon! He may be a baby, and he only appears for a few pages, but he makes an impact. And as the show Riders of Berk apparently has not returned from hiatus on Cartoon Network, reading dragon books seems to be the best way to locate such winged reptiles.

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