Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A boy's own adventure

I hope somebody read Three Tales of My Father's Dragon to me when I was a kid. It's such a wonderful kid-centric story that I can even imagine that that somebody read it to me over and over again. Well, even if it wasn't part of my childhood (or the part that I can remember), I'm certainly glad I encountered it now.

In three simple stories by Ruth Stiles Gannett, Elmer Elevator begins by stowing away on a boat (fully loaded with suitable supplies ... all of which come in handy) to Wild Island to rescue a friendly, colorful young dragon who fell from a cloud. Elmer outwits the suspicious animal residents of Wild Island to spring the dragon (whose name we find out later is Boris) from a rather unpleasant servitude. In Elmer and the Dragon, the two now-fast friends journey back across the ocean -- discovering buried treasure along the way -- to Elmer's home. Then, in The Dragons of Blueland, when Boris eventually makes his way to his own home in the mountains, he returns to Elmer for help to rescue his family from dragon hunters. Then, Elmer finally gets home to his family -- after having been gone for about 10 days. Yes, his family was worried ... sort of.

I just enjoyed how much this book mirrors a child's imaginative play. The things that Elmer uses to solve his problems are all things that kids are going to have firmly in their radar -- things like lollipops and rubber bands. The logic of the adventure is the logic of a child -- yeah! I went down to the dock and stowed away on a boat. Elmer fixes everything, no adults step in to help him. There's a little wordplay (canaries are suffering from curiosity [in a phrase I can no longer remember ... sorry!]) to keep the reading grownups happy. And I also love the way the narrator keeps reminding us that Elmer is his/her father. As someone who recently lost her father, this book seemed suffused with that child's love.

I enjoyed Fuse No. 8's post about meeting the author when she stopped into the New York Public Library to see if her book was in the system. (Imagine having some doubts about that!) I also like the fact that someone photographed what I am assuming are the book's endpapers and posted them on their website. (Well, maybe I really don't like that since it is possible copyright infringement ... although Project Gutenberg notes that "extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright [on My Father's Dragon] on this publication was renewed," so maybe it isn't -- as we say to the young folks -- stealing.) Of course, I have copied it here, which means that I might be stealing as well. Oh snap! I hate copyright. Well, I don't really ...

Robert Sevra narrates the brief audiobook. His narration reflects that child love and admiration for a parent that underpins the tales and then blossoms into the right tone of humor and ridiculousness that the stories deserve. In addition to the quietly competent Elmer, there are many crazy animal portrayals on offer, all of whom get a silly, occasionally naturalistic character from the narrator. I liked them all.

It's funny to think of an author's output of being just under 250 pages and no more. Gannett moved on to other things, I guess (seven daughters!). But it does give me pause that she wouldn't think that her books would still be on the shelves of the library. When you look at it another way though, maybe her books aren't really around any more? The publisher repackaged three individual books into one at the 50-year mark (1998). We have both that collection and the 60th anniversary edition of My Father's Dragon here at my library. Guess which one checks out more? (Three Tales ...)

Three Tales of My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett
Narrated by Robert Sevra
Listening Library, 2005. 2:24

1 comment:

Sue Jackson said...

Ah, we loved these books - listened to all three on audio many years ago when my boys were younger - definitely a favorite.

Sue