by Judy Newman with Alexie Basil
We spend a lot of our time trying to stay relevant. Social media posts and more posts. Blogs (such as this one). Tweets and texts and updates and Zoom calls and livestreams and more.
Children’s books—and great literature and art in general—stand up well to the test of time.
But times change. And sometimes, what was relevant in the context of a book’s or product’s original debut is irrelevant at best—and offensive at worst—to new times, new attitudes, and (hopefully) newer, progressive, more inclusive ways of thinking about life.
How many things, for example, that were around in 1949 do we see room for in our daily lives now? And I’m talking literal room—these things are huge!
Like the analog computing machine in the Fuel Systems Building of NACA (which would become NASA in 1958)…
The 1949 Zenith color television…
And the rotary telephone!
While these 1949 creations are now outdated, My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett, illustrated by her stepmother, Ruth Chrisman Gannett, is still as relevant today as when it was selected as a Newbery Honor Book 71 years ago.
Readers will respond to the timeless story of Elmer Elevator, the narrator’s father, who runs away from home after his mother rejects his new friend, a talking alley cat.
“This is without a doubt the funniest book that we have seen in a month of Sundays.” —The Saturday Review of Literature
Motivated by the alley cat’s heartbreaking story of a baby dragon forced to work under harsh circumstances to ferry passengers back and forth to Wild Island, Elmer sets out on a rescue mission. He stows away on a ship, taking with him a knapsack filled with seemingly ridiculous—but in fact quite useful and lifesaving—items that Elmer uses with great ingenuity in his quest to rescue the baby dragon from its captors.
I hadn’t read My Father’s Dragon in a long time. But rereading it in preparation for this post reminded me of how timeless and relatable great children’s books can be.
Kids will relate to Elmer’s indignation at how his mother treated his new friend; cheer for Elmer as he outsmarts each threatening predator he encounters on Wild Island; and share Elmer’s triumph as he rescues the baby dragon.
You can also see how relevant My Father’s Dragon is through the posts we’ve put together this week. Second grade teacher Eileen O’Rourke uses My Father’s Dragon as a mentor text and finds so many rich themes to explore.
While working from home under quarantine, the Book Boys—Max, Elliott, and Allister—were inspired to create blanket forts and act out the story of My Father’s Dragon using household items.
And David Vozar was inspired to pull out of his own proverbial literary backpack all kinds of ways to keep a few imaginary squirrels under control.
Please take this opportunity to share My Father’s Dragon with the students and children in your life. It is a great read-aloud, perfect for new chapter-book readers, and is an enduring piece of literature for readers of all ages.
I hope you enjoy these resources to enhance My Father’s Dragon. Speaking of staying relevant, they can all be used in a virtual classroom or at home:
• FUN, KID-FRIENDLY VIDEO: Build a blanket fort with the Book Boys and take a trip to Wild Island (without ever leaving your living room).
• MENTOR TEXT FOR VISUALIZATION: Second grade teacher Eileen O’Rourke shares how she uses My Father’s Dragon to help her students practice visualization, characterization, descriptive adjectives, and opinion writing in Book Talks.
• MEET THE AUTHOR: Go Behind the Scenes and learn about Ruth Stiles Gannett, the creator of My Father’s Dragon.
• MAKE AN ADVENTURER’S BACKPACK: Try a fun at-home activity to encourage creative thinking and problem solving in Cooked Up from a Book.
We hope you and your students enjoy My Father’s Dragon, and that it encourages you to never stop adventuring—even when we have to stay inside. And, as always, please get in touch if there’s ever anything we can do to support you by emailing JNBlog@scholastic.com.
Here’s to staying relevant. Happy reading!
This Book Is Available from Scholastic Book Clubs