Friday, September 10, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon -- Bookivore's Choice for a Good Read-Aloud

Read alouds can serve several purposes: they can introduce kids to more difficult language, they can expose kids to forms of language that might otherwise be unfamiliar or intimidating, like poetry, or they can stimulate kids' interest in reading by just being a rollicking good time. How to Train Your Dragon falls into this last category.

Great literature it ain't, but it is unapologetic about that. In fact, it revels in distinctly un-literary characters like Snotface Snotlout and Gobber the Belch and my personal favorite, Baggybum the Beerbelly. The hero, or perhaps anti-hero, is Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, son of Stoick the Vast, chieftain of the Hairy Hooligans, a tribe of Vikings inhabiting a dreary, difficult island in the North Sea called Berk (for those not in the know, Berk is a British slang term for an idiot).

Hiccup is rather a failure at all the traditional Viking pursuits; he is particularly bad at yelling, which is a handicap for his task in this book, capturing and training a dragon. Hiccup, you see, usually tries to do the right thing, which is not always the same as doing the Viking thing, and quite often is exactly the opposite. In this case, because he tries to save his friend Fishlegs from being eaten as he kidnaps a dragon, he himself ends up with the smallest, laziest, most contrary and ordinary dragon ever -- not a stellar achievement for the son of the chief and possible future chieftain himself someday. Hiccup manages to get himself thrown out of the tribe and almost simultaneously reinstated in order to save the Hooligans from the greatest dragon threat they've ever encountered. Hiccup manages it using his brains -- something the Hooligans are a bit short on -- and becomes a hero in the process.

We took this one on vacation with us and it was a huge hit with my children, particularly my seven year old son. The book is peppered with goofy drawings of the various characters which my children liked. And of course, the names and the references to belching, farting, and otherwise being kind of gross and impolite were a big hit as well.

Note, this is very different from the movie, so if your children saw the film, this isn't going to be as dramatic, nor is there as much emphasis on the viking-dragon relationship. Dragons in the book are supremely selfish and Hiccup's dragon is no different.

It's good fun as a family read aloud, and worth a look for reluctant readers, too. And if your kids like it, there are 4 more books in the series, enough to fill lots of nights with laughs.

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