ROAD TRIP! Review of How to Train Your Dragon

For the past six months, our family’s been under the spell of a small, crotchety, and almost entirely talentless dragon. Toothless—that’s right, a dragon with no teeth—belongs to Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, who is destined to become a Viking Hero even though he is “small, and red-haired, and very, very ordinary.” Hiccup and Toothless’ lack of athletic ability and most other Viking/dragon talents* (whoever heard of a Viking who can’t build a seaworthy boat?) lead them into all sorts of adventures involving treasure, monstrous beasts, and Romans.

  How To Train Your Dragon 's movie version of Toothless is completely different from the book's version--but just as endearing.

How To Train Your Dragon's movie version of Toothless is completely different from the book's version--but just as endearing.

Our family first encountered Toothless and Hiccup on a long car trip back from our Christmas vacation. Junior had to be persuaded away from listening to The Magic School Bus for the nth time, but once we got into How To Train Your Dragon we were all hooked. It’s perfect for an elementary schooler—it's a child/animal relationship book with adventure and slapstick/potty humor. David Tennant read the audiobook version and we all loved his version of the Pirate Training Program’s teacher, Gobber the Belch. However, I can’t totally recommend the audiobook version because of its volume problems. The audio boomerangs between LOUD and soft. Originally, I thought that this was a problem with our CD, but my friend Michele and other reviewers of the audiobook also complained.

Our library doesn’t have the series, so I’ve been requesting the succeeding books in the How To Train Your Dragon series through interlibrary loan. To tide us through the periods while we wait for a book to get to our library, we got out the movies. Spoiler: How To Train Your Dragon I and How To Train Your Dragon 2 retain only the book titles and the names of a few of the characters. On the plus side, the Pirate Training Program in the movies contain girls. Gamechanger! If your family liked the books, then definitely put the movies on your to-watch list, but be aware that they contain violent dragon/Viking fighting action, which some children may find scary.

The How To Train Your Dragon series movies’ dragons are adorable and the characters are voiced by a Who’s Who of actors including Gerard Butler, America Ferrara, and Cate Blanchett.

Reading the books aloud after hearing the audiobook means that I’ve continued Tennant’s Scottish accent for Gobber. Before reading the books I was totally ignorant about Viking Scots (I mentioned this to my Scottish friend Dave and he said, “Oh yeah, the Vikings were all over Scotland.”) The Scotsman confirmed this with an article on DNA patterns in Scotland citing 29.2 per cent of the male population in Shetland as carrying Norse DNA. Voice coach Gareth Jameson gives an overview on YouTube if you would like to pick up a suitable accent for your rendition of Gobber. But be careful not to go overboard—while researching Scottish accents I also ran into a hysterical excerpt from The Graham Norton Show in which Norton, Lily Tomlin, Chris Hemsworth, and Ron Howard confess that they can’t understand most of what fellow guest Scottish comedian Kevin Bridges is saying.

 This map, from the BBC Bitesize page    Who Were the Vikings   , shows Viking settlements in Scotland, England, and Ireland.

This map, from the BBC Bitesize page Who Were the Vikings, shows Viking settlements in Scotland, England, and Ireland.

Since the movie How To Train Your Dragon 3 is coming in 2019, we’re going to have to branch out for filler material while we wait for the next installment of the series to arrive via interlibrary loan. I plan to pick up the DK Eyewitness book Viking and also to look for some material about Leif Ericsson’s voyages to America. Youtube has a translation of the Vinland saga if you’d like to get authentic. Those of you with older children should definitely check out Nancy Farmer’s The Sea of Trolls. This book (recommended for grades 6-9) looks at Vikings with the eyes of an outsider—Jack, who along with his little sister Lucy is kidnapped by Olaf One-Brow and taken via longship to the court of Ivar the Boneless. The Sea of Trolls is one of the best children’s books I’ve ever read. And, good news, there is an audiobook version!

Michele Braun reviews other dragon-centric children's books (My Father's Dragon, The Hobbit, and more) in her post Exploring the Classics of Dragon Lore. Their family began with My Father's Dragon when her daughter was three, and Michele says that her daughter was enthralled. I also completely recommend The Magic School Bus standard audiobooks. On this trip, we listened to The Magic School Bus in the Time of the Dinosaurs, The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge, and The Magic School Bus inside the Human Body. The Magic School Bus standard audiobooks (not the e-versions) are fantastic because they actually include a book. Junior loves reading along with the audiobook. The series wouldn’t be what it is without Bruce Degen’s wonderful illustrations, and with this package format, listeners don’t have to miss them. If you have multiple children I strongly recommend getting multiple copies of the book to avoid fighting, because everybody will want to look at the book.

* Hiccup's best friend Fishlegs discovers Beserker tendencies later in the series.