The author tells us that, as a young boy, John Ronald Tolkien, born in 1892, loved dragons. He loved reading about them, thinking about them, and even dreaming about them. His was a happy childhood until he was orphaned at age 12.
Dragons temporarily went out of his life. But eventually he grew up, married another orphan he met at his boarding house, served in the first World War, and got a job teaching at the University of Oxford. One day, he started making up stories to entertain his children during their winter school break about a “hobbit” named Bilbo Baggins. His four children loved the stories. As the stories expanded in scope, Tolkien took Bilbo on a quest to find dragons. The story culminates with a picture of Tolkien metaphorically shedding light on his magnificent fictional dragon Smaug. The Hobbit was published in 1937 and achieved worldwide success. Tolkien was thus encouraged to write “The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.”
An Author’s Note at the end of the book fills in some background on Tolkien’s life. The illustrator, Eliza Wheeler, used ink and watercolor to fill the pages with both realism and magic. She includes an extensive note which provides indications of where, in her pictures, to find historical details she has included.
She also confides that she hid dragons and dragon-like shapes throughout the book, but these she leaves to the reader to discover.
Other additions at the end of the book include a catalog of Tolkien’s dragons, quotes by Tolkien about dragons, and a bibliography.
Evaluation: This picture book for young readers is a great way for parents to inspire kids to want to enter the fantasy world of Tolkien. The book not only promises there will be adventures including dragons, but a made-up language as well. (An entertaining discussion of Tolkien’s new words can be found here. I especially liked the remark by a critic in 1963, who clearly forgot about being young, and called the made-up words “insane.”)
After reading this book, I myself contemplated doing some re-reading! Who can resist that great opening line from The Hobbit, reproduced in this story: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”
Published by Roaring Brook Press, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings, 2017