I confess, it was being nominated for the Cybils that made me pick this one up (finally), but it had been on my radar for a while, because as my son recently informed my daughter, dragons are the best.
A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder. Read by Susan Denaker. Random House, 2015.
Miss Drake is a dragon who takes humans as long-term pets. She’s been doing this for several centuries, but the (unfortunate if timely) death of her latest pet, Fluffy, has sunk her into depression. She’s startled out of this by the arrival of young Winnie, Fluffy’s great-niece. (Winnie called her Great-Aunt Amelia rather than Fluffy.) Miss Drake would like Winnie to go away and leave her in peace. Winnie has strict final instructions from Great-Aunt Amelia to persist in visiting Miss Drake and making sure she is taken care of. Can Miss Drake’s attempts to train her new pet stand firm in the face of Winnie’s desires for cookies, tea, and field trips to the local magical shops?
On the surface, this is a clever set-up. Miss Drake and Winnie each consider the other her pet, and it’s entertaining to watch them circle around each other. It’s also a look at dealing with grief – a refreshing one where the deceased is loved and missed but not the child hero’s parent or sibling, and people are sad but are able to keep living life. There are fun adventures with unpleasant creatures trying to attack the magical shop and Miss Drake and Winnie having to chase down some runaway magic, but the real heart of the story is the developing cross-generational friendship between the two main characters. This gentleness makes it appropriate for younger and/or sensitive fantasy readers. I listened to it on audio and tried playing a bit of it for my six-year-old, who found the story from the dragon’s point of view a little too confusing for her. Susan Denaker’s Miss Drake voice sounded proper, British and a bit elderly – perfect – but Winnie’s voice sounded like she was five instead of ten, like all of Denaker’s voices for the Penderwick sisters. That’s a slight complaint, though, for a quite enjoyable book.
If you’re looking for more first fantasy chapter book suggestions, I have a whole list for that!