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Joan Raeside
Illustrated by Adrian Raeside
Toronto, Doubleday, 1994. 32pp, paper, $5.95
ISBN 0-385-25431-8. CIP

Pre-school to Grade 1/ Ages 4-6

Reviewed by Theo Hersh

Volume 22 Number 5
1994 October

To read the publisher's blurb about Dennis the Dragon, one would believe that this is an educational book embracing, as it were, "a healthy no-smoking and environ-mentally aware attitude." In fact, this slight and mildly entertaining illustrated poem, originally published in 1977, leaves a very different message at the end.

Dennis is not a fire-breathing dragon. In fact, he finds the smoggy atmosphere of his house annoying, so he leaves home, hopeful of finding his place in the sun.

The villagers who live at the bottom of the mountainside are terrified when Dennis swaggers into town but finally realize that he is both smokeless and harmless. As a matter of fact, they begin to envision themselves a whole lot better off as a village with a flame-less dragon. Why, they would be (rich and) famous! Thus, while Dennis is having fun just being himself, the villagers know a meal ticket when they see one. Talk about mixed messages!

The rhyming couplet story is meant to be light-hearted and entertaining, but this reviewer does have a problem with the villagers' reactions. Instead of being delighted with a wholly friendly and lovable dragon who wants to live in an environmentally clean place, they only imagine how to use him to their advantage. Without going overboard with this critique - the book is in fact quite slight - I wished to share this observation.

The cartoon like images are bright, bold, exaggerated and comical. Young children will enjoy the colour and the bouncy rhythm and rhyme of the verse. It is a book which may find its way onto a nursery shelf but is not one to necessarily seek out.

Theo Hersh is a children's librarian with the Toronto Public Library in Toronto, Ontario.

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