Friday, January 22, 2010

Book Review: How to Train Your Dragon, by Cressida Cowell

"Long ago, on the wild and windy isle of Berk, a smallish Viking with a longish name stood up to his ankles in snow.

Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third, the Hope and Hier to the Tribe of the Hairy Hooligans, had been feeling slightly sick ever since he woke up that morning."

Hiccup is the son of the Hairy Hooligans' Viking chief, and destined to take over that leadership from his father. But first, he - along with all the other boys his age in the tribe - must successfully complete an important rite of initiation: climb up into the dragon cave, locate the dragon nursery, bag a sleeping juvenile dragon for his lifelong companion, and get out. All without waking up the rest of the hundreds of dragons slumbering there, who will surely pursue the boys and ensure a rather grisly end to their quest. And then, he has to prove his mastery over this dangerous creature by training it. The problem is that Hiccup is not very much like his mighty Viking father, and not very like a typical Viking, for that matter. In fact, the other boys have dubbed him Hiccup the Useless, all except his loyal friend Fishlegs. Can he complete this quest, fulfill his destiny, and earn the respect of the tribe? Or will he end up a charbroiled dragon snack?

For Teachers and Librarians:
How to Train Your Dragon has been touted as the perfect book to reel in your reluctant readers. It's full of varied text and picture use throughout: maps, lists, songs, stat pages on dragons, rough drawings, even stray blots of ink strewn here and there. Several characters have their own unique text when they speak, making it easier to keep everyone straight. It has colorful characters with giggle-worthy names: Dogsbreath, Clueless, Fishlegs, and Snotlout, to name a few. The vocabulary strikes right at the readers' funny bones, adding just the right amount of mild bathroom humor that always seems to draw kids like a magnet - but not so much that the story is overshadowed.

Mixed in with all the laugh-out-loud moments, excitement, danger, dragons, and very uncivilized Vikings, your students will find a real hero's adventure complete with a quest or two, impossible odds, a main character you can't help but like, and a story that will keep the kids thinking (despite themselves) all the way through. You'll find themes of quintessential initiation rites of childhood; dealing with intimidation by peers, parents, and even teachers; finding the leader within; depending on good friends; discovering strength you didn't know you had; learning to adapt; among many others. This book can be used as a supplement to a study on early Vikings, Norse mythology, and/or even a fun language unit (due to the many bits of dragonese that will have your students in stitches). Use your imagination when it comes to this wildly imaginative book. How will you use this in your classroom?

For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers:
How to Train Your Dragon will have your kiddos laughing all the way through, but they'll also be doing a good bit of thinking. What kind of person do they want to be? What is the "stuff" they're made of? Hiccup is faced with monster-sized odds, but finds a way to deal with all of it - and not all by himself. He learns to get help when he needs it, and to trust when his heart tells him to trust. He learns that the accepted way of doing things isn't always the only (or even the best) way of doing things. He learns to see himself for the important and unique person he truly is. You'll enjoy this one as much as your kids will - and it's even more fun when it's read out loud. Find a copy and get reading. You - and your kids - will be glad you did.

For the Kids:
How to Train Your Dragon is much more than a dragon training manual. It's more a story, really. In fact, the only training manual anyone knows about is very, very, erm...brief. Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third, his best friend Fishlegs, and the other boys his age must each sneak into a dragon nursery cave, steal a dragon, and scramble back out undetected. But it doesn't end there - then they have to train their dragons to do their bidding, and prove it to all the other Hairy Hooligans.

Dragons, however, are not a very nice lot. In fact, they're rather selfish, don't think much of anyone but themselves, and tend to make life as difficult as they can for their human captors. Hiccup (called Hiccup the Useless by his nemesis and ambitious cousin, Snotlout) and the rest of the Hairy Hooligans soon find they have a lot more to worry about than whether their little dragons follow their commands. Can Hiccup live up to the tribe's expectations that he become the next Chief of the Hairy Hooligans? Can he ever get his dragon to listen to him? And, can he save his people from the danger lurking deep below the water's surface?

For Everyone Else:
How to Train Your Dragon is a fun story, with a message subtly woven in. You'll find yourself cheering for this "smallish Viking with a longish name," pulled deep into the story as you laugh, commiserate, and think all the way through.

Wrapping Up:
How to Train Your Dragon is a book not to be missed. It's a rollicking adventure that will keep the reader giggling, cheering and pondering right on through to the end.

Title: How to Train Your Dragon
Author and Illustrator: Cressida Cowell
Pages: 216
Reading Level: Ages 8-12
Publisher and Date: Little, Brown and Company, 2004
Edition: 1st U.S. Edition (library copy)
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $4.50 (at
ISBN-10: 0-316-73737-2
ISBN-13: 978-0316737371