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How to Train Your Dragon    by Cressida Cowell order for
How to Train Your Dragon
by Cressida Cowell
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2004 (2004)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I love the antiquated cover of How to Train Your Dragon, which we are told is written by Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, and 'translated from the Old Norse by Cressida Cowell'. I must admit that I turned up my nose at Hiccup's story initially, expecting one of the super silly middle grade reads that have been popular lately.

That attitude quickly changed. The silliness in this tale is only a thin (though funny) veneer over serious stuff about bullying, challenging tradition, how to treat others if you want their help, and the nature of courage. Of course, the young hero is a small, skinny, red-haired, freckled underdog (or perhaps we should say under-dragon in this case). Though the son of Viking 'Hairy Hooligans' chieftain, Stoick the Vast, 'on the wild and windy isle of Berk', Hiccup is labeled 'Useless' by his peers. He's not a natural Hero, but tells us that he has to work at it, and work hard he does.

We watch as ten Viking boys enter a cave of hibernating dragons, each selecting one and stuffing it in a basket (all part of a tribal 'Dragon Initiation Program'. There's a hiccup of course, which results in young Hiccup handing over his 'Basic Brown' to his friend Fishlegs and grabbing another at the last minute. Turns out, he's picked a very small 'Common or Garden' beastie, which is soon named Toothless - guess why! Poor Hiccup applies Professor Yobbish's succinct advice to train his dragon ('Yell at it!'). When fear proves ineffective, he tries 'vanity, revenge, and silly jokes.'

Initiation day is a disaster, which is soon overtaken by the catastrophic arrival of very ancient, incredibly enormous, and extraordinarily hungry, Sea Dragons. Turns out that Hiccup is the only Viking who can speak Dragonese, so he has a true (though unwanted) opportunity for Heroics. He, and a reluctant Toothless, stand (and soar) up to the challenge. Hiccup is hailed as 'Useful', and tells us 'And that, my friends, that, is the Hard Way to Become a Hero.' The text of this tale is interspersed with goofy black and white sketches of dragons and Vikings, which add to the fun.

Though it's targeted at middle grade readers, my 15-year-old son and I both enjoyed the hilarious How to Train Your Dragon very much. It's high entertainment for all ages.

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