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Tales of My Father's Dragon

Updated on August 19, 2014

Lesson Plans, Storybook Editions, and Pink Lollipops

At the age of nine, would you have gone off to rescue a baby dragon because an alley cat -- who your mother would not let you feed -- had told you about its plight? And if you did, would you have packed 6 magnifying glasses, 24 pink lollipops, a package of rubber bands, and some hair ribbons?

Assuming you did not have such adventures yourself, would you have believed your father if he told you he did?

Even this would take considerable suspension of disbelief! But generations of children have suspended disbelief -- more or less -- as they read under the covers at night.

In My Father's Dragon, the first book of the trilogy, the protagonist is referred to only as "my father". In later books, he is referred to in third person: Elmer Elevator. A lot happens to this kid along the way! By the end of the first book, the narrator's father has rescued the baby dragon from its status as work-dragon on Wild Island. But it takes him to the end of the second book to arrive safely home -- where he finds his formerly stray cat friend reclining on a sofa in the parlor. (In his absence, his mother has taken pity on the kitty, remembering how fond her son was of her.) It takes to the end of the third book for everyone to be home safe, including the baby dragon and its family.

My Father's Dragon has been selected as a Common Core fiction exemplar in the second/ third grade band. As a Common Core book, it may be more popular than ever. It can seem hard to to come by. But look deeper! The original tale entered the public domain at a much younger age than most works (a case of copyright nonrenewal) and is widely available for online reading.

As for library editions... There are branches of the public library in neighborhoods throughout my city, and every copy of the original classic is checked out citywide. However, most of the volumes of the trilogy, Three Tales of My Father's Dragon, are on the sheIf -- so in Seattle, at least, you can read all three books more easily than you can read one!

The first book is the one that, not surprisingly, there are the most teaching resources available for. I personally prefer the second book, Elmer and the Dragon. I have a niece who is a little young for it, but who I am thinking about reading it to. I'll provide my own teaching resources for that one, including a list of difficult vocabulary.

This image is by the author. Images that are not by the author of the page are from Project Gutenberg.

At the Conclusion of the First Book...

Image: Project Gutenberg, Public Domain

The animals are obviously upset about 'their' dragon being taken, but there's not a lot they can do about it, as they can't get off the backs of the lollipop-chomping crocodiles while in the middle of a river.

Primary Reading Comprehension... and a Bit of a Laugh

Here a first grade teacher shares what her class did with the story as they read. They started with an anticipatory set: They determined what they would take with them on such a journey. Then they examined Elmer's use of the items he packed, checking them off one by one. And they determined something interesting: Apparently, there's no mention of Elmer ever using the spare clothes he packed. (The teacher notes he obviously had his values straight.)

My note: Although Elmer does use his toothbrush and toothpaste, there's no indication of his brushing his teeth either. A toothbrush and toothpaste, it turns out, can also be used by a rhinoceros for tusk brushing. Once the gift has been proffered, the rhinoceros allows Elmer past his personal weeping pool. One problem solved!

A thought to consider: Did Elmer intend to brush his teeth on the journey or did he intend to do what he did with that toothbrush?

I say that if he had had any intention of brushing his own teeth on the trip, he would have taken two toothbrushes. (What's my evidence/ reasoning?)

Rhino Brushing His Tusk

Rhino Brushing His Tusk
Rhino Brushing His Tusk

Identifying Story Structure

My Father's Dragon is an easy book to practice identifying story structure. Most chapters introduce a new problem -- one that is resolved by the time the chapter ends. There is a predictability to the presenting issues as Elmer encounters a lion, a gorilla, a rhino...

However, there's one large problem that doesn't get solved until the end: A baby dragon needs rescuing. Sensitive children may note a second unresolved problem: What becomes of the alley cat? (This, they will be glad to know, is resolved by the end of the series.)

Activity: Keep track of each problem that arises. How -- and when -- is it resolved?

Three Tales of My Father's Dragon

The compilation, first released in 1997, includes the entire trilogy. The illustration is from the third book, The Dragons of Blueland. At the end, the dragon gives the boy an awkward embrace, and that, we presume, really is the end of the encounter. It is relegated to fond memory -- and as a favorite story to be handed down to posterity.

The series was illustrated by the author's mother-in-law -- hence the similarity in names between author (Ruth Stiles Gannett) and illustrator (Ruth Chrisman Gannet). Not only was the first book dedicated to the author's father, but the illustrator was married to him! You believe there must be at least a kernel of truth in the tale, don't you? Otherwise, the charade would be just plain silly.

Public Domain Editions of the First Book

My Father's Dragon is in the public domain although, with a 1948 copyright date, it is quite an early entry!

Read Along with My Father's Dragon Online

Here the Librivox audio version is paired with text to create a read-along version. The audio and text aren't synchronized perfectly, but it's an appealing rendition with charming, very youthful sounding vocal work.

Comprehension Check Point

How did Elmer know what to pack?

What do you think the alley cat told Elmer about the island?


What do you think the alley cat told Elmer about the lion? the monkeys? the rhinoceros?

Common Core Curriculum Maps

The original story is included in Common Core Curriculum Maps as part of the mythology unit. One suggestion is that children create a book as they summarize chapters. Another is that they create their own audio recording, thus developing fluency and practicing expression.

What is the Lesson in the Story?

Is it 'be kind', 'be prepared'... or something else?

Kids can make a paragraph or picture book to back up their selection.

The Saga Continues: Elmer and the Dragon

The first story is full of 'bad guys'; the second has none. Elmer and the little dragon first fall victim to the weather. While recouping on an island, they happen into a mystery -- one that has left generations of escaped canaries "sick with curiosity".

This, unlike the first, is one you'll need to check out or buy.

Elmer and the Dragon is available in paperback and library editions. It is also available as an Audible audiobook. As far as I know, it's not available individually in Kindle, though the compilation is.

A Context for Summarization

Before beginning Elmer and the Dragon, children may retell, or summarize, the previous story for a friend.

Read-aloud/ think-aloud strategy: Notice how the opening of the sequel includes summary, but mentions only the big problem, not the smaller ones. Why? (People need to know the big problem to understand what's happening now, but they don't need the rest.)

Also notice that the first line isn't summary. Why might that be? (The first line gets our attention.)

Discussion Question for Book Two

Did the past kings of Canary Island die of curiosity?

Elmer's old friend the canary claims generations of 'King Cans' died of curiosity as 'very old' canaries. But are there alternative explanations? (Hint: Did any king ever die of curiosity at even a relatively young age?)

Complex Characterization

There are no true villains in Elmer and the Dragon. There are, however, some complex characters. King Can is worth exploring. He is pretty silly at times: He just knows there is treasure in the box that the would-be settlers buried generations ago. He cares a lot about having treasure even though he has no real use for it. Toward the end, he declares his satisfaction at having riches, and when asked by his wife what he'll do with them he says he'll do nothing -- just have his gold and be rich.

On the other hand, King Can can be generous. Elmer is sent away with three bags of gold and a fancy harmonica.

Select several words that may describe King Can and have children find evidence in the story.

Extending the Book

At the end of the second book, Elmer gives his father a birthday present.

Here's a question for children to explore:

What would you give Elmer as a birthday present?

Ideally, children will explore facets of Elmer's character. The author lets the reader know several of his interests. We get the sense that he likes music!

Elmer and the Dragon: Difficult Vocabulary - By Chapter

  1. aboard, ferocious, miserable, swooping, knapsack,anxiously, compass
  2. thrashing, quicksand
  3. sandbar, whimpered, unstiff, muttered
  4. boulders, sloping, meadow, orchard, ostrich fern
  5. fluttering, ancestors, eldest, curiosity, lumbered
  6. introduce, suspiciously, flattered
  7. mosquitoes, treasure, filtered
  8. trilled, peered, gasped, hoisted, staggered, illustrious, canvas, whosoever, pewter, harmonica
  9. cheeped, farewell, silverware
  10. lighthouse, outskirts, wharf, gigantic, rummaging

Discussion Question for Books 2 and 3

What do people think dragons are like?

What are they 'really' like?

Does this remind you of anything in real life? In another book?

For Your Post-Book Celebration - Dragon Stickers and Pink Lollipops

Carson Dellosa Dragons Prize Pack Stickers (168040)
Carson Dellosa Dragons Prize Pack Stickers (168040)

There are a lot of sheets of stickers in this pack!

BirthdayExpress Pink and Purple Swirl Lollipop (16)
BirthdayExpress Pink and Purple Swirl Lollipop (16)

This is a good value if you're willing to work at presentation. Evidently, the lollipops come individually wrapped in packaging with lots of black writing.


Which Book in the Series Do You Like Best?

Assuming you know the series... which is your favorite?

See results

The Dragons of Blueland

Elmer arrives home at the end of the second book. Before he leaves to go help the dragon and his family in the third book, he again has the opportunity to pack. In fact, he gets to do a little shopping.

Questions to consider before reading:

What would you take if you were Elmer?

What do you suppose Elmer takes?

Something for Young Writers to Consider...

Elmer grew up and became the narrator's father.

What do you think Dad packs for family vacations?

Has he had any unusual adventures lately?

Before You Fly Away...

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