Gail Gibbons's Behold...the Dragons!
Book review by Monica Friedman
World mythology and culture for kids…with dragons
Gail Gibbons has written more than a hundred nonfiction books for kids, and has just the right knack for turning basic and seemingly unimaginative topics like apples, farms, and meteorology into colorful and creative works. So, when she tackles a massive myth like dragons, it’s certain to contain a huge dose of high-interest material.
She begins with an explanation of primitive mythmaking. Why do people tell stories about dragons? To comprehend “happenings in their world that they couldn’t understand” such as lightning, earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis, all of which can be explained by the four-element dragon, a creature of earth, air, fire, and water. Of course, since this is nonfiction, she assures us that humans now understand the workings of these “natural events” and that “[a]lmost no one believes in dragons anymore.
Review - Behold...the Dragons!
This introduction speaks to the fears and insecurities of small kids who may very well fear monsters. There are explanations for the scary things in our world, we learn. Monsters may seem like a simple answer, but science can demystify our fear.
Dragons, according to this books, are demystified by “dragontologists,” who “study dragon lore.” We learn that the word “dragon” comes from the Greek and means, “a huge snake with piercing eyesight,” that large serpents might have inspired the belief in dragons, and that there are five types of dragons. Almost every human culture tells stories about dragons.
These issues settled, she moves on to the meat of the story: the mythologies, folklores, and fairy tales that comprise the stories of dragons. Beginning in ancient Mesopotamia, she tells of Tiamat, the mother of creation, whose body became the world in which we live. Stories from Greece and China, the epic of Beowulf, the tale of St. George, and the Aztec legend of Quetzalcoatl are covered. Dragons are shown in art as well. They can, we learn, be good or evil, helpful or destruction. They can walk on land, fly in the air, swim in the water, and spew fire from their mouths. They can be defeated by heroes, but, sometimes, they can defeat the greatest heroes.
The last page of the book adds a few more dragons to the mix: the very real komodo dragon, the questionably real Loch Ness monster, and some created dragons, like the constellation Draco and the gargoyles that decorate old European churches.
The drawings are pen and watercolor, very bright and detailed, so that each dragon has its own personality: friendly, wicked, wise, chaotic. The result is another high-interest book. Behold...the Dragons! helps children understand the inner workings of world mythology (with a glimpse into the concept of cultural relativity and science’s place in our understanding of the universe) and draw a firm line between the world they live in today, and the epic stories of the past. In this book, we learn that our worldview, so much more detailed and proven than that of the ancients, protects us from fearsome things, like dragons.
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