Learn More About the Author of My Father’s Dragon
by Alexie Basil
Get to know the Newbery Honor–winning author behind My Father’s Dragon, Ruth Stiles Gannett, in this behind-the-scenes look.
When she was only 26 years old, Ruth Stiles Gannett’s first book, My Father’s Dragon, won a Newbery Honor. And the novel has been a timeless favorite of readers ever since.
A charming autobiography written by Ruth and her seven daughters provides an inside look at her life.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1923, Ruth claims that she isn’t a “real” writer but that her book was written by “the child within her.” When she was a child herself, she attended the progressive City and Country School in Greenwich Village.
There, her teachers encouraged her to create. She sang, read, modeled with clay, experimented, painted, built with blocks, designed furniture (kind of like the Book Boys this week), and, of course, she wrote.
During the height of World War II, she earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. Around then, the idea for a story about a baby dragon began to percolate in her mind. It wasn’t until she was stuck in her parents’ home for two rainy weeks that she finally put pen to paper and finished the story.
With her parents’ encouragement, Ruth sent her story to an editor at Random House, who showed it to elementary schoolers in Boston to decide if it should be published. And (spoiler alert!) the kids loved it.
(One teacher reportedly commented, “It is the work of a maddened mind, but the children liked it!”)
The creation of My Father’s Dragon and its sequels was a family affair—her stepmother, Ruth Chrisman Gannett, drew all of the illustrations, and her husband, Hans Peter Kahn, designed the spacious typography.
It was an instant hit.
Now, more than 70 years after its publication, Ruth’s fantastical story continues to capture readers’ imaginations. It has been in print ever since and has been translated into at least 14 languages.
In fact, Netflix plans to release an animated feature film by the same name in 2021. Academy Award–winner Meg LeFauve (whose work you may recognize from Inside Out and Captain Marvel) is currently writing the screen adaptation.
This lovely excerpt from Ruth’s website describes her life today:
“Now in her nineties, Ruth lives in the Trumansburg farmhouse with one daughter. Ruth bakes her own bread, tries to finish the crossword every morning, collects berries to make jam, feeds the birds and often has a book and jigsaw puzzle going. She still loves to sing—especially with others—and to live sensibly by composting, recycling and walking, and by keeping in touch with family and friends.
“She remains an active supporter of women’s and civil rights, the environment, peace, and progressive politics. Ruth received many letters and comments, that let her know how important My Father’s Dragon has been—and still is—to readers of all ages around the world.”
If we had to guess, My Father’s Dragon will remain a staple on readers’ and teachers’ shelves for many more years to come!
Ruth Stiles Gannett wrote My Father’s Dragon just a few years after her graduation from Vassar College in 1944. It was an immediate success, becoming a Newbery Honor Book, and was soon followed by two sequels, Elmer and the Dragon and The Dragons of Blueland. All three dragon stories have been continuously in print in the more than 40 years since their publication. The author’s other books include Katie and the Sad Noise and The Wonderful House-Boat-Train. She was married to the artist and calligrapher Hans Peter Kahn (who passed away in 1997). She has seven daughters and seven grandchildren.
This Book Is Available from Scholastic Book Clubs