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Everyone Knows What a Dragon Looks Like

Title: Everyone Knows What a Dragon Looks Like

Author: Jay Williams

Illustrator: Mercer Mayer

Age Group: 2-8

Synopsis: With the Wild Horsemen of the North bearing down on them the city of Wu must pray to the Great Cloud Dragon for help but will they recognize him when he comes to the city?


The Low Down:

I can’t talk about dragon books without talking about Everyone Knows What a Dragon Looks Like. It is, hands down, my favorite dragon picture book. Jay Williams tells this legend-esqe story is such a masterful way and Mercer Mayer flat out rocks the illustrations. It’s a bit long for a toddler but Bug will sit through it and request it again and again.

The story begins with the city of Wu, perched between China and the plains of the Wild Horsemen, and a small very poor boy, named Han. Though Han has nothing he is thoughtful, friendly, and kind. One day the Wild Horsemen decide to attack China and plow through the city of Wu on the way, just for kicks. The leader of the city and his councilors decide the best course of action it to pray to the Great Cloud Dragon for help. The next day, a tired and dirty old man arrives at the city. Han takes him to the leaders of the city and informs them that the man says he is the Great Cloud Dragon, come to help the city. In exchange, the dragon asks only for something to eat, something to drink, and some courtesy. The leaders laugh. They can’t decide what a dragon looks like but agree that dragons certainly don’t resemble this fat, dirty, old wanderer. However, the Wild Horsemen are soon at the city gates. As the leaders run to hide, Han takes the old man to his hut and gives him all his food and drink. The man agrees to save the city, if only for Han and creates a wind the blows the Wild Horsemen away. He then leaps into the air, changing into the most frightening and beautiful creature Han has ever seen.

Mercer Mayer embraces the story and delivers a style that I haven’t really seen in his other books. Proving again, what a master he is. The traditional Chinese style incorporates elements of calligraphy, while displaying traditional architecture and designs. I loved that Bug had to ask about the lion statues and the dresses the ladies wore or even why the ruler of the city was wearing a dress. The exposure to all these new pieces just makes the story that much more of a window into a another time, place, and culture. Mayer also takes advantage of the text pages by including clever illustrations that inform but still draw focus to the words themselves.

I was a little shocked when Bug embraced Everyone Knows what a Dragon Looks Like with such enthusiasm. It’s a little above his age range but honestly, when I think about it, it’s gorgeous, meaningful, exposure to a different culture,and about dragons! What’s not to love? I’m certain that it’ll be a favorite for years to come and I’m pleased to pass it on to a new generation.


Story Tips:

  1. Help the Great Cloud Dragon blow away the Wild Horsemen.
  2. Keep an eye on the background details too. They’re stunning and interesting.

I need more!

I was only familiar with Jay William’s title: The Practical Princess. He has tons of other books including a whole Danny Dunn series. Check out more via Amazon and the ever-knowing Google.

Mercer Mayer is best known for his little critter series. They’re sweet and adorable and we had a few growing up but Everyone Knows What a Dragon Looks Like will still always be my favorite.


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