Dragon Charmer is … Charming!!

by | Oct 14, 2019

I have said before in this column that we have an incredibly talented community of writers here in central Illinois. One case in point is Ruth Siburt, who used to write this column. Her novel, Dragon Charmer, has just been re-released by Royal Fireworks Press, with a new cover and some tie ins with creative writing projects for upper elementary students.

The book, first published in 1996, is still marvelous and the new cover makes it far more appealing for young readers. Dragon Charmer is available on Amazon, but make sure you get one with the updated cover. The previous cover suggests the book is far more ominous and scary than it, in fact, is.

Dragon Charmer is set in the future and is dystopian, but at a perfect (ie not too scary) level for young middle grade readers. In this future, water is a precious resource carefully rationed and used only for drinking, no one is allowed any pets and fines are one million dollars, and all books (called vox-books) are recorded, rather than on paper.

“Imagine having enough trees you could cut them down and use them for books,” the main character, Cady, marvels.

The story also moves at a good clip. Cady (named for early women’s rights pioneer, Elizabeth Cady Stanton) is helping her mother take care of the family since her father was killed in a commuter train catastrophe. That means often watching her four-year-old sister, Sara. The story opens with Cady at the library where she has requested more dragon vox-books from the librarian. Cady is obsessed by dragons. Within the first chapter, Cady learns that the librarian is a dragon charmer and, much to Cady’s surprise, the librarian says she is one too.

Dragon charmers take care of dragons, which, due to the efforts of famous dragon slayers like King Arthur and St. George, are almost extinct. In addition, the no-pets law includes dragons. As soon as Cady agrees to take on the job of dragon charmer, the librarian happily passes her the dragon (Arson Welles) in her charge.  Arson is tiny; he fits in Cady’s pocket. Much of the story, though certainly not all, focuses on everything Cady learns as she tries to protect and nurture Arson.

Dragons grow very slowly and take constant care. They grow a single scale at a time and each scale appears only when a human performs an act of kindness, which is also brave. So when Cady sat by Will Rainer, the weird kid in school, and shared her sandwich with him, Arson Welles earned a scale. When Cady expresses surprise that that act was considered brave, the librarian says, bravery can include “daring to make friends with people no one else likes. … That is one of the bravest deeds on Earth. It is also one of the most rare.”

Each kind/brave act is cataloged in a magical book. This catalog provides an interesting plot twist as Cady sees that her father, who is supposed to be dead, has been showing up in the book for his good and brave deeds.

One thing I love about Dragon Charmer is it doesn’t answer all the questions it poses, which shows a great respect for the readers. You will enjoy puzzling over the nature of dragons and dragon charmers well after you have finished the book.

Book cover of Dragon Charmer

Alexandra the Great book cover

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