The Night Dragon by Naomi Howarth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I love a simple, few words children's story. Not only because it means they are quick to read before bed to children (no one really wants to read all the words in Dr. Seuss every night, let's just admit that to ourselves now) but because they are stories that children can learn and remember. I love when a child sits next to me and knows the next words on the page. Not because they can 'read' them but because they are simply, yet memorable enough to be worthy of a rapid child's mind remembering. This is the beginning of a relationship with words and reading that I always wish every child and adult could have. The Night Dragon is exactly this kind of simple; yet wonderful story.
So much colour! If dragons don't already lend themselves to gorgeous children's book illustrations; Howarth takes it to another level by adding such vibrant colour and detail to each page. Whether it's in the dragons themselves (especially our rainbow gal) or in the landscapes and sky that is the setting.
While the story of a children's book is very important, we might as well face it, both adults and children need to have interesting and engaging artwork as well. If the art of the book isn't as good or better than the story then children won't be leaning over to see the pages and point out little details in each illustration. Words are engaging for so many of us; but for children, storytelling and understanding starts with the pictures. Pictures are after all something kids can understand without needing to learn any letters, words, grammar or context.
Let's not pretend here, this is really the age old story of the Ugly Duckling or Rudolph. It's the story of a misfit who doesn't fit in. And yet this take on the story is so sweet and lovely that I can't find any reason to criticize the choice of core story.
As all stories of misfits go, one day/night things don't go the way they usually do and so the lead character (Maud the rainbow dragon) must find her courage and lift herself into the sky to help the sun go down. The use of the beautiful colours of a sunset sky is clever here by Howarth and I commend her for finding a bit of magic in daily life on earth. The next time I see a beautiful sunset I am sure to think of Maud the Dragon and her friend Mouse who courageously bring those colours to the sky before the night descends.
The only downfall of this story in my mind is that there is a bit of a gender barrier put up by the night dragons all being boys (as far as I can tell) and our lead rainbow dragon being a girl. This may have been intentional by Howarth to speak of women's role in the world being as important as men's. However I would have preferred if our dragons had remained gender neutral. As then the idea of all dragons being boys or all rainbow creatures relating to girls wouldn't be reinforced here. It may be subtle but I do believe these types of small things are large influences (besides the obvious ones) for children to divide our world into boy and girl things.
I plan to purchase this book for at least two families of toddlers I am close with. It's simple story is always worth telling. One family has two boys and the other two girls. I see no reason why this story can't be relevant and important to both of them. It may be that the girls will take to it quicker than the boys; but I hope that is not the case. No matter how you feel about the gender divide in The Night Dragon I am confident everyone will agree that the story of a misfit finding their place in the world amongst daily beauty is one that is worthy of being told and read. I would happily read this story each night for months on end to a child who requests it; and I do believe they will fall in love with it and ask for it again and again.
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Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.
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