The best children’s book ever

When I was little, my father read the book  My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett (1923-) to me and my siblings. The story is a bout a boy, Elmer Elevator, who hears about a young dragon that is kept as a slave by wild animals on a far away island. He decides to set out to free the dragon, and on this quest he meets tigers, gorillas and crocodiles, whom he tricks to let him pas by distracting them with lollipops, tooth paste and hair ribbons of different colour.

I have read the story my self several times over the years both as a child and as an adult, and I still love it as much as the first time. And I have been thinking about it a lot recently, while writing the story ‘The Little Birthday Helper’, trying to figure out, what makes a great children’s story.

I love the illustrations made by Ruth Chrisman Gannett : the style of the pencil strokes with the roundings and the gradients give the illustrations a soft and velvety look.  The contrast from bright white to solid black gives depth to the image, and supports the drama of the story line: on the surface you have what you have, but what hides in the shadows? It is the well known versus the unknown.

I love the story. As a child I would shiver by the thought of Elmer’s bravery, how he hid for six days on  a ship to get to the island, how he jumped and climbed from rock to rock across the sea at night, how he entered the jungle knowing about the fierce animals he would meet. Brrrr, I shiver now as I remember the story.

 

Elmer Elevator is carefull, but he meets the challenges as if they were everyday obstacles. To him the wild animals are dangerous, yes, but the danger can be overcome with the help of ordinary objects from home. He is a boy going into the Heart of Darkness. With a backpack full of lollipops.

And I love the words: how polite Elmer is to every one, how he and the animals reason, and again, how civilization meets the wild not only with Elmer being in the jungle, but allso in the way the animals think:

“It’s my mane,” said the lion, as he was figuring how many bites a little boy would make. “You see what a dreadful mess it is, and I don’t seem to be able to do anything about it. My mother is coming over on the dragon this afternoon, and if she sees me this way I’m afraid she’ll stop my allowance. She can’t stand messy manes! But I’m going to eat you now, so it won’t make any difference to you.”

Now, I will not be attempting to write a childrens versions of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. But I think my conclusion on why I think My Father’s Dragon is so great is that it is full of contrasts, which gives suspense as in a rollercoaster  ride. And that makes it immersive. So, Marie, the rollercoaster effect is what you will strive for in writing interactive children app-books.

 

When my father read My Father’s Dragon to me, I was so immersed in the story, that I was convinced that it was actually about my father. The only thing that did not make any sense to me in this fantasy (which besides a dragon includes talking animals of all species) was, that the boy in the book had a very strickt mum who whipped him (!) when she found out, he had been housing a stray cat. And that did not sound like my sweet, sweet grand mother at all.

My Father’s Dragon

by Ruth Stiles Gannett (1923-)
Illustrations by Ruth Chrisman Gannett (1896-1979)
New York: Random House, 1948. Copyright not renewed.

Texts and images: http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/gannett/dragon/dragon.html#10

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