Why the Train a Dragon Books are so good for young readers

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The Train a Dragon books

As the introduction for Cressida Cowell's Train a Dragon series of books state:

"Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third was an awesome swordfighter, a dragon-whisperer and the greatest Viking hero that ever lived. But Hiccup's memoirs look back to when he was a very ordinary boy, and finding it hard to be a hero."

The first book in the "Train a Dragon" series opens when ten year old Hiccup, the son of the Chief of the Hairy Hooligan tribe is directed, along with other boys in his tribe to take part in an initiation ceremony.

The boys are supposed to steal a dragon from a dragon cave. It is intended that the boys will then train the dragons to become their helpers and fighting companions.

Unfortunately Hiccup's coming of age dragon quest is not very auspicious. Instead of a returning with a warrior dragon, he ends up with the smallest, weakest dragon the tribe has ever seen.

This pretty much illustrates Hiccup's dilemma throughout the series. Viking children are expected to behave like Viking warriors. Unhappily Hiccup does not exhibit any of the traditional abilities, such as strength or rudeness, that are so valued by his society. Instead, although brave, he is more comfortable reading rather than fighting.

However, Hiccup does discover one very important ability. He finds that he can speak and understand Dragonese, the language of dragons. None of the other Vikings speak to their dragons instead they treat them rather like a pet dog. Of course, being able to communicate with the dragons gives Hiccup a unique understanding and appreciation of them.

So begins the first book in Cressida Cowell's series which is now 11 books long. It is the starting point for Hiccup to launch himself on a series of adventures and encounter various dangers and challenges. Not being the typical Viking warrior, Hiccup has to win his battles with intelligence and forethought. Although he does end up being an excellent swordsman along the way.


Three of the books in the Train a Dragon series
Three of the books in the Train a Dragon series

How to Train your Dragon characters

Fans of the film "How to Train Your Dragon" or the Train a Dragon television series will find there are not many similarities between the series and the movie version of the story. However, this means that there are plenty of surprises in the storylines to be enjoyed.

Probably most people who have read and seen the film would prefer the film character of Toothless, Hiccup's dragon, to the character in the book.

In the book Toothless is small enough to perch on Hiccup's shoulder, rather petulant and self-centred. He loves to cause mischief and lands Hiccup with many problems. Of course this helps to advance many of the storylines in the series.

Toothless also has a stutter which at times interferes with the flow of the story writing. However, Hiccup does love his small dragon and forms a strong relationship with him. Although at times this relationship resembles the way a parent might interact with a whingey toddler.

The names of the characters who feature in the series, and much of the language used, will appeal to the humour of many children. For example, some of the more memorable names in the series include: Baggybyum the Beerbelly, Dogsbreath the Duhbrain and Nobber Nobrains.

The books do not have the character of Astrid who appears as Hiccup's friend in the film. However, there are female characters in the books. The main girl character in the book is Camicazi. She first appears in the third book in the series called "How to Speak Dragonese." Camicazi is small, tough and an expert swordswoman and adept burglar. (All traits admired in the Viking world). She becomes a close friend of Hiccup's and goes on a number of adventures with him.

In the books Hiccup's cousin is Snotface Snotlout. This is not made obvious in the film. However, in the series there is a constant rivalry between the two. After Hiccup, Snotlout is next in line to be the Chief of the tribe. Snotface is pretty much the opposite of Hiccup - tough, rough and bloodthirsty. He also pretty much fits the ideal of what the adults are constantly wanting their Viking children to become!

One of the consistent features of the books is Hiccup's relationship with his father, the chief of the Hairy Hooligan tribe. His father, Stoick the Vast is large and tough. He prefers to fight first and ask questions (or even think) later. Therefore Stoick certainly fits the ideal of a traditional Viking hero expressed in the novels.

Unable to be like his father, Hiccup worries that he will disappoint Stoick. On the other hand Stoick is keen that Hiccup will grow up strong enough to be a suitable chief for their tribe. However, what is clear, is that whatever their differences, the two do love each other.

Also, Hiccup certainly does not disappoint his father. There are many incidents where he saves his tribe through using his cunning and quick thinking rather than his muscles. Hiccup consistently proves that although his methods may be considered unconventional by many of the Vikings, he is growing up to be a competent leader.

Loyalty to friends and family is also a strong theme in the book. We see this many times through Hiccup's determination to protect his father, his grandfather and his tribe. He and his best friend Fishlegs are also very loyal to each other through many adventures.

Additionally, the Train a Dragon books are also a fun launching point for children to explore history. Although in no way do the books pretend to be historically accurate, they may well prompt interest in exploring a variety of historical topics such as Vikings, Romans, seafaring stories and even the discovery of America.

The books are fairly easy to get through. Most of the Train a Dragon novels are around 200 pages long. The pages are interspersed with a lot of illustrations as well as profiles of the various types of dragons Hiccup encounters. Therefore the actual reading matter is clearly less than a solid 200 pages.

Children should also enjoy the humorous sketches which are placed liberally throughout Cressida Cowell's books. These usually involve many of the characters with very emotive expressions and gestures. The illustrations are down by the author and add to the sense of fun and tongue in cheek style of the Train a Dragon series.

All in all, a great read and a great series for both boys and girls. Adults should enjoy them too, particularly if they are prepared to not take the stories to seriously.

One last thing to consider is to take advantage of the excellent audio book versions of this fun books series. The first time we read the books as a family was when we listened to the audio book of "How to Train a Dragon" on a long car trip. It was very well read by the actor David Tennant of Doctor Who fame, and proved a great introduction to the series.

Author Cressida Cowell also illustrates the Train a Dragon books. Image source: How To Train a Dragon by Cressida Cowell.

Train a Dragon books in general

Additionally, the Train a Dragon books are also a fun launching point for children to explore history. Although in no way do the books pretend to be historically accurate, they may well prompt interest in exploring a variety of historical topics such as Vikings, Romans, seafaring stories and even the discovery of America.

The books are fairly easy to get through. Most of the Train a Dragon novels are around 200 pages long. The pages are interspersed with a lot of illustrations as well as profiles of the various types of dragons Hiccup encounters. Therefore the actual reading matter is clearly less than a solid 200 pages.

Children should also enjoy the humorous sketches which are placed liberally throughout Cressida Cowell's books. These usually involve many of the characters with very emotive expressions and gestures. The illustrations are down by the author and add to the sense of fun and tongue in cheek style of the Train a Dragon series.

All in all, a great read and a great series for both boys and girls. Adults should enjoy them too, particularly if they are prepared to not take the stories to seriously.

One last thing to consider is to take advantage of the excellent audio book versions of this fun books series. The first time we read the books as a family was when we listened to the audio book of "How to Train a Dragon" on a long car trip. It was very well read by the actor David Tennant of Doctor Who fame, and proved a great introduction to the series.

How to Train a Dragon books

Trailer for the new film, Train a Dragon 2

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