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Review: The Dragon Who Feared Fire by Jeff Shevlowitz

“The Dragon Who Feared Fire” is a delightful tale about two outcasts who find each other and discover the true meaning of friendship. Even before Harold’s birth, his father knew he would not be like other dragons. Percy, Harold’s father, predicts, “Growing up may be hard for you, but you’ll be a dragon unlike any other.” Percy is correct. Unlike the other hatchlings, Harold is scared of fire. When the other youngsters revel in their ability to breathe fire, Harold runs away in fear. He prefers spending his time in solitude swimming in a secret lake. Most dragons hate the water. Harold loves it.

Krystal is a human child who also doesn’t fit in. After her mother’s death, she and her father move to a village on the outskirts of a forest. Krystal has a secret that only she and her father know. She can talk with animals. Since she doesn’t get along with other children, she spends much of her time speaking with animals. Her father, Jonathan, is a blacksmith. Krystal uses her abilities to speak with the horses so they won’t be afraid of the blacksmith shop.

One day, while conversing with a rat, two children spy Krystal and mock her for “speaking” to the rodent. She blurts out that she can communicate with animals. News spreads among the children of the village and they hound her the next day asking what other animals she talks to. Overwhelmed and scared of all of the attention, Krystal runs into the forest. She wanders from the path and discovers a hidden lake. The lake Harold swims in.

The two misfits meet and realize that they have much in common. Instantly a bond is formed and together they face their fears and foster a friendship that outlasts their childhoods.

The concepts in this story are not new. Yet, Jeff Shevlowitz has presented a fairy tale that is original, humorous, and full of heart. In today’s world, children need to hear and understand the message that it’s okay to be different. Not only is it okay, but they should embrace their own differences and respect other’s differences. Many educators and parents will appreciate the message in this story.

The illustrations by Paz Winshtein are my favorite part of The Dragon Who Feared Fire. The daring images jump off the page and the vivid colors draw you back in. These drawings have their own energy and will transport children into a world of dragons.

While I was impressed with the illustrations, I wished at times that the author employed more descriptive words that children would appreciate. I don’t believe that writers should avoid large words when writing for a younger audience. The best way to build a youngster’s vocabulary is to read. However, I also believe that descriptive language in a children’s story should resonate with young readers. For instance, Shevlowitz writes, “The egg was gently tinted in subdued hues of … blue and green.” For me, I would prefer he not say the colors were subdued, but showed that via his words. Make the story come alive with active description that will make children visualize what subdued means. Children are the most imaginative of people. Assist them in fostering this burgeoning gift.

Aside from my quibbles about word choice, I believe that this story will speak to many kids in today’s world. The story is clever and subtle enough to make it entertaining while they will learn that being different is not that bad. In fact, it can be cool. I give this story 4 out of 5 stars.

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