A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans (Dragon’s Guide #1) by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder, illustrated by Mary Grandpre.
Yearling, Penguin Random House, New York, 2015.
MG fantasy, 152 pages + excerpt.
Lexile: 840L .
AR Level: 5.6 (worth 5.0 points) .
Ms. Drake is mourning the loss of her beloved pet Fluffy when a near-feral new critter barges rudely into her den. She’d planned to spend a few decades in retirement before getting a new pet, but will Winnie convince her otherwise?
So, first I need to clear up a mistake I made back in my review of Dragon of the Lost Sea. That book is the first in the Dragon Quartet, and at the time I reviewed it, I’d started this trilogy but hadn’t decided whether to review it for this blog. The voice of the dragon Shimmer from that book, and Miss Drake in this story, were so markedly similar that I thought they were the same character in two different stories. However, upon rereading this book it’s clear that couldn’t be the case – because they are different colors!
For the record, I still think it would have been neat if this was the same character appearing across different settings and time periods. Even the naming (Ms. Drake is basically a word for dragon with an honorific) led me to think these were the same characters, and that would have been a nice nod to his previous work. However, it’s also understandable that across publishers and editors, Yep may not have been able to include the same character even if that was his desire.
A Dragon’s Guide has a clever conceit – it’s entirely told from the point of view of the dragon. Turning the fantasy trope of a child with a pet dragon around, this is the story of a dragon with a pet child. She even renames her various humans, and given the strong dragon voice and major difference in lifespan, it’s easy to see why dragons might think of humans as their pets.
The main problem with this book, as far as this blog, is that it isn’t very diverse. Laurence Yep is Chinese-American, but his wife/coauthor is white, as is the illustrator. The main human character, Winnie, is also presented as white. There are a few moments when Yep’s influence can be seen, like several points that discuss the difference between Eastern and Western dragons.
While I do review books by non-white authors that have no other diverse connection, this is one out of four (authors, illustrator, main character) so it’s less applicable here. However, since I made that error when mentioning it previously and since we already owned the book, I decided to go ahead with at least the first installment of this series.
The writing is well done, with a good balance of humor and plot, and the emotional relationship between human and dragon is nicely developed. Laurence Yep is great at writing curmudgeonly dragons with tender hearts.
The main plot, of course, isn’t only child-becomes-dragon’s-pet. Winnie (whose mother has no idea about the secret dragon lair in their new house) gets a sketchbook from Ms. Drake that turns out to be magical and causes a lot of problems. This, and Winnie’s prodding, convince the dragon to return to her former activities and haunts more quickly than she would have otherwise.
Fluffy was Winnie’s great-aunt. Her grandfather Jarvis was opposed to her parent’s marriage, and tried to remove her from her mother after her father’s death. When her mom broke her leg and was out of work, he nearly succeeded until Fluffy left them the house and her inheritance. Thus Winnie is not very awed by the magical aspects of her new dragon friend, but very grateful for small practicalities and time spent bonding. She’s also creative and persistent, which Ms. Drake ignores to some inconvenience!
As an adult and more recently, someone trying to work my way through Laurence Yep’s books, I enjoyed the little historical references and connections with his other books immensely. Ms. Drake has lived through a lot of history (three thousand years worth, if what she tells Winnie is correct), so she makes little references to Joan of Arc, the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, or ancient Chinese dragons.
While this wasn’t laugh-out-loud funny for me, it did have a good balance between the humorous banter of the main characters, and more serious topics like poverty or Winnie’s mother’s struggles. I do wonder how this series can be sustained though. The ending leaves a clear opening for further magical adventures, but the conceit, while clever, seems like it would be difficult to maintain over several books.
More diverse-adjacent than diverse, but still recommended.