Wed 14 Nov 2012
Princesses and dragons have been staples of children’s literature since the very first fairy tales.
But as fairy tales have evolved, so have the kinds of princesses and dragons you’ll see. Case in point are two recent picture book releases — Dangerously Ever After written by Dashka Slater and illustrated by Valeria Docampo (Dial, 2012) and Oh No, Little Dragon (Atheneum, 2012) written and illustrated by Jim Averbeck.
How are these characters different? For starters, the princess in Dangerously Ever After has a pet scorpion and a taste for danger. And the dragon in Oh No, Little Dragon is a sweet fellow who gets into normal childhood mishaps, only to find there’s nothing his mother can’t fix.
Today, we’re lucky enough to have Dashka and Jim visiting Read, Write, Repeat to talk about their books.
I hear you and Jim are on a “Dragon and the Dangerous Princess” blog tour. Isn’t it usually the other way around?
Don’t believe everything you read. Dangerous princesses have been making life exceedingly difficult for sweet little dragons for centuries! Hunting them nearly to extinction with their demand for dragon-skin handbags, raiding dragon hoards whenever they need spending money, insisting on equal time in the dragon-battling arena, and in Amanita’s case, stealing plants out of their gardens.
Is Princess Amanita friends with other nontraditional princesses in children’s lit? Who do you think she’d get along best with – the Paper Bag Princess? Princess Bossypants? The Princess Knight?
Princess Amanita loves sharp things, so she particularly enjoys hanging out with The Princess Knight, who always has a good supply of swords, daggers and lances. She has a good time with The Apple Pip Princess too, since they share an interest in all things botanical.
How much of her is inspired by you? Do you like dangerous things and thorny roses? What about humongous noses?
I’m actually a gibbering coward when it comes to many dangerous things — I tend to close my eyes on the roller coaster, and I’m perfectly content skiing on the bunny slopes. But I am attracted to dangerous characters, spiky plants, edgy humor, bad language and spicy food. And now that you mention it, my husband does have a pretty big nose.
What do you hope young princess readers will take away from this story?
That there’s a vast difference between smelling good and smelling well.
What’s the story behind your story? How did it come to be?
One day, my then-six-year-old son announced he was going to write a story about a queen who meant to plant rose seeds, but planted nose seeds instead. I couldn’t wait to read it! But when a couple of weeks had gone by and he still hadn’t written it, it seemed the only way I might get to read it is if I wrote it myself. That’s motherhood in a nutshell, isn’t it?
Who’s Little Dragon’s literary dragon hero? The Reluctant Dragon? The dragon in My Father’s Dragon? The dragon in the basement of Gringotts that Harry Potter frees? Someone else?
Smaug from The Hobbit. Little Dragon respects his pure destructive power but also recognizes his largely ignored tender side. In fact, in a sequel I am writing to Oh No, Little Dragon!, Little Dragon’s father is reading a story about the lies the hobbit spreads about dear Uncle Smaug.
Little Dragon sounds like quite a handful. What was the worst thing you ever did as a child? Could your mother fix it?
I was a most helpful child, actually. I mean, the vase and ash tray were much more difficult to knock off the coffee table once they had been glued down. And I understand that two dozen raw eggs, thrown from a great height onto the driveway, are a good conditioner for the concrete. And it furthered science to find out that you could chop down a tree with the claw side of a hammer, given enough time. And since I learned that the firemen are our friends, it was an act of friendship to give them a reason to take the hook and ladder truck out for a spin. So there was really no reason for mom to fix any of it, even had she been able to.
What should rambunctious little dragon readers take away from this story?
That it is very dangerous to take a bath, unless you are properly equipped.
What’s the story behind your story. How did it come to be?
I’ve told in other interviews how, when traveling through China, my guide’s name was “Little Dragon” in Chinese. That’s what started me on the path to writing the book. But there’s another part. I was once teaching a class on writing picture books. We did an exercise where I put a character in the center of the page and asked people to cluster characteristics of that character around it. When I wrote “9-year-old boy” in the center, all the characteristics that came back were negative: smelly, destructive, dirty, etc. I have to admit I was surprised and a bit offended. One mom in the audience raised her hand and said, “I have a 9-year-old boy, and I think he’s sweet and brave.” This made me want to write a story about a rambunctious boy, but to show his emotional side too. I think that experience informed the creation of Little Dragon, whose greatest concern is that he be loved.
And finally …
What type of readers would enjoy both your stories?
Jim: I think any reader between ages 2 and 10 years of age, or less than 24 months old who is either a boy or a girl would enjoy both stories. Also people with at least one X chromosome.
Dashka: Any reader who likes swords as well as pretty dresses, fire as well as water, roses as well as thorns, peanut butter as well as jelly, hats as well as shoes, and princesses as well as dragons. All right-thinking people, in other words. Also people with allergic rhinitis and anyone who has suffered the heartbreak of an extinguished fire. Consult your doctor before reading any dangerous literature.
So if you get a chance, check out these delightfully dangerous picture books and share them with a child in your life.