The Trouble with Dragons

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The Trouble with Dragons by Debi Gliori, book reviewThe trouble with dragons is that there are far too many of them. They consume too much, are too noisy and make a terrible mess. When they breathe fire, ice and snow melts, sea levels rise and deserts get bigger. When all the other creatures start to leave, the dragons implore them to stay. They promise to look after the planet, and the other animals give them advice on how to do this. They have to stop chopping down trees and breathing fire; they must eat food grown close to home, start recycling and look after the land.

Masquerading as a picture book, Debi Gliori’s ‘The Trouble with Dragons‘ is of course a story designed to teach young children about global warming and environmental problems in general. It’s a great idea to this through the medium of a story rather than as a non-fiction text. It is likely that the children who appreciate the book will be a little older than the pre-school children for whom picture books are normally intended. Three- and four-year-olds may enjoy the story but may not fully grasp the ideas that are put forward.

The text is limited to a few lines per page, sometimes on only one side of a double spread. The font is quite elaborate, but it is large enough to be easily readable. It is almost always printed on a light-coloured background. Debi Gliori has written the story in verse with a strong rhythm and rhyme to carry the themes along. Although the subject is a serious one, the language is straightforward apart from the odd phrase such as ‘puncture the atmosphere’. ‘The Trouble with Dragons‘ is essentially a read-aloud book, but it has to be said that it is suitable for children who are slightly older than the usually audience for picture books.

Debi Gliori illustrates her picture books herself, and she does so splendidly. She uses brilliant colours alongside contrasting silhouettes, and the pages are bursting with life and energy. The dragons themselves are shocking pink or orange; as well as breathing fire they play the guitar or read to their children. There are plenty of other animals too: the title page shows two bears, a bird, a rabbit and a fox sitting forlornly on a melting iceberg. Further along we see Father Christmas rescuing a tiny mouse from a rising sea, while a dismayed bear holds Santa’s hat. Yet another double-page spread shows a reindeer and an elephant giving rides to smaller animals as they to struggle with rising water levels. Landscapes include an icy forest, a bonfire against a pink starry sky, and an urban sprawl with motorways and cooling towers belching out smoke.

The Trouble with Dragons‘ is a superb book for teachers or parents looking for an original way to explain environmental concerns to young children. Whether it’s pollution, global warming or recycling, the issue is dealt with in a way that will arouse interest. I read it with a six-year-old boy who knew quite a bit already about recycling but had no idea of the consequences of global warming. A group of three-and-a-half-year-olds enjoyed the book purely as a story. They had recently been learning about the North and South Poles and will be looking at recycling in a couple of months, so even at that age the book has good educational value.

This is definitely a picture book worth investing in for families with children up to the age of seven. The very young can enjoy the story and the beautiful illustrations; they can perhaps name the animals or count the dragons if nothing else. Five- to seven-year-olds, on the other hand, can start to grasp ideas about climate change, use of natural resources and the problem of endangered species. ‘The Trouble with Dragons‘ is also a great book for learning about consideration for others; the dragons only realise how much they appreciate the other animals when they start to disappear. Every infant school should definitely have a copy, and I would heartily recommend it for family libraries too.

The Trouble with Dragons by Debi Gliori
Paperback, 32 pages, Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, 2009


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Trouble with Dragons, The
by Debi Gliori

5 Comments on "The Trouble with Dragons"

  1. Zoe
    02/02/2011 at 06:06 Permalink

    Yes, we love this book too. I think the allegory is great and the humour alongside the important message works well. I’m a little sorry to read your comments about “pre-school children for whom picture books are normally intended” – picture books are for everyone! I know what you mean, but I’m fighting a battle to encourage people to see picture books as something any age can enjoy.
    Alongside The Trouble with Dragons we’ve read Michael Forman’s Dinosaurs and all that Rubbish – another environmentally themed picture book. Here’s my review incase you’re interested:

  2. Zoe
    02/02/2011 at 06:07 Permalink

    Michael For_e_man I meant!

  3. frangliz
    02/02/2011 at 16:36 Permalink

    Many thanks for your comment, Zoe. I agree, picture books are wonderful, and everyone should be able to enjoy them – I certainly do!

  4. Deb Winfrey
    02/03/2011 at 21:06 Permalink

    We just picked this title at the library because our son likes dragons and the art looked wonderful. However, this book has alarmist environmentalism from cover to cover. I would only recommend it if you really want to indoctrinate a young child into the green religion. Sentences like…”which melts both the poles and punctures the atmosphere full of big holes”….in our opinion this book is full of big holes. My fifteen year old picked it up and began to read the text, he then stated, “but apparently it’s perfectly OK to use up our resources to print this kind of nonsense.”

  5. frangliz
    03/03/2011 at 20:36 Permalink

    I have made it clear in the review that the book deals with environmental issues. I didn’t, however, see them as being alarmist; on the contrary, I think it is an excellent way of making children aware of these issues through a story. If you are concerned about the paper being used to print the book on, perhaps you could recycle it after reading! Alternatively you could donate it to a local school or library.

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Written by frangliz

I have a degree in Fine Art but never actually worked in that field. After almost two years in Paris, I moved to Cairo and spent many years there teaching English language and literature in schools. I came back to the UK in 1999 and now work with young children. I also tutor students of all ages in French, English or Maths. I enjoy writing reviews in my spare time; another hobby of mine is photography. I have two sons who are now grown up, both working in IT.

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