For kyriarchy-smashing kids who love western dragon fairytales with a twist
Quick Things You Need To Know:
- There are two broad approaches to dragons in kidlit & pop-culture, eastern & western dragons. These fairytale style books feature western dragons.
- I didn’t even bother including books where a prince saves a princess from an evil dragon because baaarf. These are the books with a progressive twist on the tired trope.
- Q’s zodiac sign is a water dragon (2012), so dragons have always been one of his AoHs (areas of hyperfocus). So we’ve read over a hundred books about or featuring dragons.
Quick & Messy Book List:
- paper bag princess – This is our favorite princess + dragon book worth reading so far. Because she tells her jerk fiance to go fuck himself. (She calls him a bum). Ages 3+ Keywords: Bravery, independent women, angry women
- Boy (Cummings) – I LOVE THIS SO MUCH. worked well for 4 & 6, probably fine for 3.5+. deaf protagonist. In this story, it’s the hearing folks who have a hard time communicating. the king and dragon and knights are all fighting because they misunderstood each other. only the Boy points out that thye are fighting for no good reason and why they need to discuss and cooperate. it’s adorably illustrated and LOVELY. does use deficiency language though – he “can’t hear” which is a bit of a bummer. I’m still waiting for a book that focuses on deaf gain. “Boy couldn’t hear, but he was happy. He spoke with dancing hands and he drew pictures for people in the sand.” the Earthquakes are enchanted with the idea of speaking with dancing hands. it’s SO CUTE. only downside is literally every single person in the story is white, and it skews male (male king, implied male knights, male protagonist). disability empowering, AWESOME
- The Worst Princess (kemp) – Modern homage to the paper bag princess (PBP). She’s bored waiting in a tower for her prince to come, horrified to realize her prince expects her to stay in another tower. Then she teams up with a dragon to blow it to smithereens, and her prince dumps all over her similar to the prince in PBP, calls her the worst princess. Some ableist language like ‘stupid’ and ‘twit.’
- Prince & Knight – (Haack) The prince and a knight (both men) work together to take down a dragon and then fall in looooove. Since it’s a love story, the Earthquakes found the romance a bit mushy. The thing that makes this book unique is that it’s normalizing a gay relationship – but for kids who grow up knowing homosexuality is normal, they were like…okay AND? Great illustrations.
- Hush Little Dragon (Ashburn) – This adorably macabre story can be sung to the tune of ‘hush little baby.’ Except Mama dragon keeps hunting humans to feed her baby. All the humans escape and they eat a horse instead (much to my dismay) but it’s still deliciously dark for a children’s picture book. We use this to discuss speciesism and animal rights.
- A Princess of Great Daring – hill-meyer. Jamie comes out as trans to her friends (she also has lesbian mothers). when they play rescue the princess, Jamie wants to be the princess – but one of great daring, who can run and climb and rescue do everything the boys can do. since she doesn’t need rescuing, they agree to rescue the handsome prince. i’d actually read this story with the kids, but it doesn’t have a hook to engage kids for more than a read or two. transparency: got a free digital version from flamingo rampant so I could review it, but I can’t get a hardcopy to test with the Earthquakes. keywords: trans, LGBTQ+ lesbian family constellations, breaking gender constructs
Meh & Forgettable Books
Either these are mediocre versions of stories that have already been done or they’re so bland I took notes on them and basically forgot all about them after.
- Not all princesses dress in pink – stemple – would do well alongside ‘beautiful’ i liked that they can be rough and tumble AND feminine with loving shoes and sparkly crowns. Fine book for breaking gender constructs, but there’s no story and no one wants to read it twice. I did once see a mom refuse to read it to her son because it had princesses on it at the library, and that MAKES ME ANGRY. Bumping it up ten points just to spite parents like that!
- how to read a story – This is forgettable. Book starts out looking kinda sexist, but it’s the princess who tells the dragon to leave the kingdom in peace. I was underwhelmed.
- Princess in training – sauer – the princess too active and spirited for princess camp, but then saves them all from a dragon. Some token characters of color in the background and it’s just completely forgettable. Skip.
- Not every princess – bone – This was kind of the same as ‘not all princesses’ breaking gender constructs and this theme is becoming its own sub-genre. But again, no story! So it’s pretty forgettable. It’s kinda metaphorical in a way that doesn’t work for us “Not every bird sings” with a picture of a girl scoring a soccer goal ..huh? is she a singing? what makes her a bird? Don’t most birds not sing? Illustrations are very cute and I love that most of the images feature gender-reversed traditions like boy ballerinas and mermaids (also confusing since he’d be a ballet dancer or merman) and girl knights singing dragons to sleep. Focuses on gentle and kindness for all these things, which was my favorite part. too bad it was all kinda nonsense and confusing. Also there is this one part confusing bravery with stupidity, where it’s ‘brave’ to stand on a ladder with no hands in the rain holding an umbrella “not all superheroes fly. some don’t even soar – at least not any more than a kitten can roar.” which…wait what? what now?
- once upon a dragon, stranger safety for kids and dragons – pendziwol – boring skip it. fall into fairytales that ALREADY teach you about stranger danger. somehow both too metaphorical and too didactic. bleh.
Problematic books to unpack with your kids
- Princess smartypants rules (cole) – I usually give Cole a wide berth on the offensive front because her books are intentionally irreverent and in-your-face, but this one was…yikes. Princess smartypants decides to adopt a baby without getting married first (cool!) but Cole ruins the story by having the white princess adopt a Black baby (super white savior problematic.) I’d still be kinda okay with it if she didn’t draw the Black baby in a seriously gross way, and depict the baby as an absolute nightmare terror. Cole CAN and has drawn Black characters without making them look like monsters painted in coal dust, but sometimes she just… does that. WTF. Anyway – in this one the dragons help babysit or whatever, and I loved the IDEA of the story but I wouldn’t read it with the Earthquakes because of the problematic depiction of a Black child.
- Damsel – Technically this is young-adult, but since I LOVE the author’s ‘Bat’ series, I wanted to check this out. OH WHAT A MESS. The scenes are graphic for sexual and mental abuse and are NOT appropriate for middle grades. I think the only reason it was categorized for younger ages is the writing is VERY BAD. TERRIBLE. for some reason folks think if you write a book too crappy for adults, you can chuck it onto the teen shelf and teens will make do, but nope nope nope. Anyway, this was some ‘some bad apples’ nonsense where all the men are two-dimensional and evil. Also all the women are complicit and submissive and backbiting. The author really piles it on and you can guess the surprise twist ending three pages in. It’s supposed to be a ‘feminist’ spin, but this reads more like parody oversimplification of #metoo. This seriously does more harm than good. I read it all the way through to get to what I EXPECTED given the premise to be a satisfying ending, but she REALLY called it in. I am angry that I wasted my life reading this. Anyway – don’t read it to your tweens or teens.
- Princess grace – hoffman – good idea, problematic execution. message is that there are more than one type of blonde European lazy princess, that princesses can have power and strength and come from all over the world. the message this reinforces to my sons is that princes are secondary to princesses, more of an accessory. good for girls who are into princess culture, but not for us. sends the message that boys should think girl things are gross (and therefore inferior), rather toxic: “The boys were pretty disgusted by the whole idea. ‘Princesses are boring,’ said Kester.” um no. my kids are fine with princesses. we don’t need this BS. this story is way past its prime and needs severe updating. mentions and draws cool spread of real-life kickass princesses in women’s history (Amina of Nigeria, Pin-Yang of China who started a woman’s army, Nyasha from Zimbabwe) – if the book had focused more on this, and less on ‘ew, pink, yuck’ theme, I’d be down. the language about hrr dad is odd – making him sound more like a stranger, even though I’m fairly certain this book takes place after her visit to Africa, and I find it hard to believe in 2007 that she wouldn’t have regular internet or phone contact with her father and siblings in Gambia. “This made Grace sad for two reasons. She didn’t like Natalie and she didn’t have a daddy of her own. > new paragraph < At least not on who lived with her.” later, she calls her father: “But Grace’s papa didn’t know any, nor did his wife, Jatou.” not stepmother, his wife. weird. in the end, we see a parade float with princesses, with of course highlight the blonde white princess, and the princes and princcesses of color are kind of lumped in on the other side. WEIRD. also pretty sure Japanese princesses are not a thing? “But it was a bit crowded because of all the Japanese and African and Spanish princes and princesses.” Validating for girls of color and AAPI illustrator, but ugh.
- sail away dragon & Lovabye Dragon- joosse – princess and dragon go on a kind of meh adventure. skip it. sometimes I wonder why people bother making books if they aren’t going to SAY anything.