Monday, 21 October 2013

The Wooden Dragon by Joan Aiken

This is one of the few books that I've enjoyed just for me. Usually when I'm reading with Daughter I take pleasure from her stories because she's enjoying them and I can appreciate the plot, but The Wooden Dragon by Joan Aiken left me utterly spell-bound.

I'm sure it won't be to everyone's taste, because very little actually happens in it. It's magical in the same way that Studio Ghibli's 'My Neighbour Totoro' is magical - understated, subtle and all the more thrilling for it.

A brother and a sister live in a cottage surrounded by trees. The sister was lamed as a child when she slipped on the autumn leaves which bury the cottage every year. Whilst the brother - a sailor - usually sweeps them away, he's called to sea and leaves the girl with nothing but a wooden dragon to keep her company.

The girl knits her troubles into blankets and socks and scarves, forgetting about the dragon throughout the summer. Eventually the leaves fall again and she becomes trapped in the cottage. That's when she dreams of the dragon, and takes him from the shelf to dust him. He rescues her from her predicament (and I won't tell you all that happens because it's lovely), and the girl begins to live her own life again.

This is such a wonderful story full of hope, but more importantly, ambiguity. The brother doesn't return, and we aren't left with the fate of the dragon and sometimes, not tying everything up at the end of a book is just a beneficial as doing away with the loose ends. I think it's important that children learn early that life isn't linear and that things don't necessarily follow in neat threads of plot.

This is a gorgeous autumnal read, probably more suited to 4+ children, but because of the glorious illustrations, it will hold the attention of someone younger while the grown-up doing the voices enjoys something that's just a little bit more meaty.

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