Excuse the somewhat oddball post here. I recently finished leading an after-school class/storytime of sorts in the South Bronx. It was a five week experiment group that was equally exciting and exhausting. It was a test run to see what kind of thing we could come up and what would work. I chose a dragon theme that included a chapter book to read a couple chapters from each week, and also picture books to supplement for a little storytime each week. I want to try and share snapshots of the time as it is about reading, completely took over my time recently, and might tickle the fancy of those dragon lovers out there. In this first part, I’ll tell you about the chapter book we read and the activities we ended up doing around it. In the second part, hopefully coming this week as well, I will share the dragon picture books we read and loved.
This book is so fascinating. It is only ten chapters long, has an excellent rhythm to its pacing, and somehow stays incredibly exciting and unique despite its age.
The first in a trilogy of sorts, the story focuses on the narrator’s father as a boy named Elmer. Elmer meets a friendly cat who tells him of an island where a baby dragon is being held captive by a mean lot of wild animals. Elmer is obsessed with the idea of flying and quickly takes to the job of freeing this little dragon. He packs a very oddly detailed group of items in his knapsack and sets out on a crazy adventure around Wild Island.
Elmer turns out to be a sort of naive MacGyver character who encounters various dangerous animals and strategically pulls items from his knapsack to distract and pacify them. Despite the title, the dragon is only talked of through the first 9 chapters and finally met in the last, but only briefly enough to escape with Elmer. It is a thrilling, mystery of sorts as readers attempt to figure out what Elmer is going to do in each face-off. The ending is quite satisfying on its own, but it also leads well into the next books, completing the story and the boy/dragon friendship.
The interesting thing about this book, is the very unassuming knapsack which turns out to be so highly important. I ended up needing a craft/activity time with my classes and thankfully, that knapsack proved to be quite helpful. I’m going to share the things I did with it, simply because they are fun and I would gladly repeat them with my child in the future. But a huge disclaimer: I am not a teacher. I do not want to be and I greatly disliked planning for this class. I did a ton of internet scouring and Pinterest poring to find inspiration for our projects. I will list the original links if I know them, but some ideas were definitely Frankensteined from all the things that I saw and then made my own version for what I wanted.
First up I had an engineer print (only $5!) made at Kinko’s of the awesome map Ruth Chrisman Gannett made for the book. We hung that on the wall and used a scanned and cut-out image of Elmer to move along each week and help the kids remember the following week’s chapters and events.
Second, I found this amazing illustration of all the items Elmer included in his knapsack. (Unfortunately, I cannot find the illustrator info as it appears to be an unconnected link.) Despite its star role in the book, there are no illustrations of the bag alone with the contents. In my case, and definitely for my students, it was very helpful to visualize exactly how much of each thing he brought. Two dozen lollipops sounds absurd at first, but it is even more outrageous when you see them all drawn out!
I also blew up these illustrations, traced them, and created print-out sheets on cardstocks for the kids to color, cut and put in their own knapsacks. Here are the items for your download needs if you so desire.
Speaking of knapsacks, my awesome co-leader came up with this great knapsack craft which we created with the kids over several weeks and they eventually got to take home with all the items they made to put inside. It is made from a brown grocery bag and masking tape and then the kids colored their own and added the items they made along the way.
The last item we made was our own dragons. Lightly using the description of the dragon in the book, the illustrations of the dragon in the second book, and this cool dinosaur piece I stumbled upon but can no longer find a link to (big help, sorry), I created this fun guy for the kids to each make. This was by far, my favorite thing to make, despite all the prep-work I ended up doing. The kids had a blast making their own dragon and he is certainly a keeper. Because I am nice, here is a downloadable sheet of the pieces you can print and then trace onto cardboard or card stock to make your own.
Finally, we capped off this crazy cycle with a party that included themed nametags which ended up determining your character to act out when we did a massive recap of the book for the parents and visitors who joined us. We also had a stack of these coloring sheets which I traced/designed from the original book illustration. Certainly helped extend the idea with littler kids and who doesn’t like to color?! And lastly, we had a pile of these dragon drawing instruction sheets which I don’t remember the original link for either.
Now, in no way am I saying that this book needs supplementation with crafts and games and extras. It stands alone, and I actually think does better that way. But, if you are needing time-filler and a way to keep hands busy while helping to remember the book, I hope this post was at least a little bit helpful. I was amazed at all the ideas out there for this book, and yet I wanted some things to be better. That is why I ended up wanting to write this very strange post for this blog. I hope someone finds the quick look at the book helpful and if you want to use any of these materials, have a blast.
Stay tuned for Part 2 where I share all the dragon picture books we read and tell you a little bit about the dragon-mania my brain went through in the process.