Reviews /

Don’t Ask the Dragon

Authored by Lemn Sissay
Illustrated by Greg Stobbs
Published by Canongate

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Don’t Ask the Dragon is the debut picture book from Lemn Sissay, who is probably most known for his appointment as the official poet of the 2012 London Olympics. He is an author and broadcaster with a passion for supporting children in care and he has been awarded an OBE for services to literature and charity.

Dragon titles are perennially popular in primary school classrooms and the eye catching cover featuring the main character Alem perched upon a dragon’s nose, is likely to encourage children to pick this book up to discover what’s inside.

The story features a young boy in search of somewhere to call home. He encounters several creatures on his journey, all of whom say they don’t know and warn him not to ask the dragon under any circumstances. The setting is undetermined, but the eclectic mix of creatures are original and not the usual choices, including a meerkat, a treefrog, a fruit bat and a bulldog!

When Alem finally comes nose to nose with the perceived monster in an impactful double-page spread he and the reader discover that in fact the dragon DOES know! What follows is a quashing of stereotypes as Alem accuses the dragon of intending to eat him and the winged serpent reassuring him he is just making a vegetarian stew. The story takes a new turn as the dragon reveals that he is also a wordsmith and tells Alem the meaning of his name – an activity that readers might like to follow up by finding out the meaning of their own names.

The climax of the story sees the dragon taking Alem to a town called I Don’t Know ‘where all the bravest go’. Alem realises that home isn’t a place, it is a feeling inside him. There are so many excellent dragon stories for this age group. With elements of rhyme and folktale and Greg Stobbs‘ bold illustration, this book would suit a young audience. This particular title could be used as a bridge (or supporting text for SEND) to the challenging classic The Reluctant Dragon, who also defies the dragon stereotype and has a penchant for eloquent language use.