Based on an inspired concept, this is a funny and heart-warming tale of magic, family and friendship.
When Grandad suggests they clear the patch of wilderness at the bottom of the garden to grow raspberries, Tomas imagines a plate-sized jam tart with different coloured sections like a multi-coloured pizza. He’s less keen on Grandad’s ideas for radishes, beans, onions and cauliflowers but Tomas’s concerns quickly disappear when they discover a dragon-fruit plant. He takes one of the glowing pineapple-y sprouting fruits home where it hatches – into a tiny real-life dragon! Unknown to Grandad, they’re been growing dragons. But, as Tomas quickly discovers, looking after a dragon is much harder than it sounds. Even tiny dragons eat and poo A LOT – and the poo explodes if it’s allowed to dry! And that’s not the biggest problem: there is the little matter of keeping the existence of the dragon secret and coping when your best friends all want one too.
Growing dragons: debut author, Andy Shepherd, has invented a concept that will instantly appeal to children. Who wouldn’t want to grow a dragon? Even the problems that Tomas describes – singed eyebrows, exploding poo and razor sharp claws – won’t put young readers off wanting to follow in Tomas’s footsteps. Indeed, I fully expect them to lap up this funny and heart-warming tale of magic, family and friendship.
Readers will easily identify with our main character, Tomas, but the thing that struck me the most about this book is how well-realised every character is. I just loved the individual quirks assigned to each member of Tomas’s family. For example, Dad loves music and spends most of his time plugged into his headphones. Thus, when he takes them off at mealtimes, Tomas’s mum feels compelled to make the most of it by talking non-stop at about a hundred miles an hour. Tomas, however, believes that Dad is really just composing tunes in his head and the nods mum takes as agreement are actually him keeping time.
Tomas’s two-year old sister, Charlotte (known as Lolli) is also wonderful and it’s great fun to read how she helps Tomas keep the existence of his dragon secret. (It helps that she can’t yet talk and has a history of causing mayhem).
The plot itself is straightforward and simple enough for emerging readers to follow. There is, however, plenty of interest in the individual scenes not to mention plenty of giggles in the slightly slapstick humour.
The story is complemented by a wonderful selection of black and white illustrations by the super-talented Sara Ogilvie (who also provided the fabulous illustrations for Julia Donaldson’s The Detective Dog and, for older readers, Phil Earle’s Demolition Dad). The illustrations of the human characters – Tomas, Grandad and especially Grandad’s grumpy neighbour – are all instantly appealing but it is the pictures of the dragons that really stand out: just check out the picture of Flicker the dragon eating a cucumber on the opening page of the book to see what I mean.
If you enjoyed this, you might want to check out Dave Pigeon by Swapna Haddow which has recently been selected for the Tom Fletcher Book Club. Or why not try another super-talented debut author for this age range in Kita Mitchell’s Grandma Dangerous and the Dog of Destiny (available from 28th June 2018).