JUNE 19:

  • Happy birthday Elvira Woodruff (Dear Austin: Letters from the Underground Railroad).
  • It’s the birth date of Patricia Wrightson (1921-2010), The Nargun and the Stars.
  • In 1910, the first Father’s Day is celebrated in Spokane, Washington. Read A Perfect Father’s Day by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Susan Meddaugh, and Father’s Day by Anne Rockwell, illustrated by Lizzy Rockwell.
  • It’s World Sauntering Day, so slow down and enjoy the world around you! Read All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee; Crinkleroot’s Guide to Walking in Wild Places by Jim Arnosky; and Ramona’s World by Beverly Cleary.

Around this time of year we celebrate Father’s Day. Now, as a rule, children are not particularly excited to read a book about an adult, even if they love their father. They would rather read about children they want to hang out with. But one of the best children’s books of all times (perfect for reading to children at the end of first grade or independent reading in second and third), focuses on a father—and a dragon. In My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett, nine-year-old Elmer Elevator travels a long distance to Wild Island to save a baby dragon. After stowing items he may need in a backpack (a lollipop, hair ribbons, rubber bands, a toothbrush, and chewing gum), Elmer must outwit a tiger, gorilla, and crocodiles before he completes his quest. In fact, he needs every item he has carried with him. What would you put in a backpack if you needed to save a dragon?

After Ruth Stiles Gannett had graduated from college, she found herself out of work and went to her father’s home at Cream Hill in West Cornwall, CT. In a couple of weeks she spun out My Father’s Dragon. Her father, Lewis Stiles Gannett, the daily book critic of the New York Herald Tribune, happened to be one of the most influential figures in the publishing industry, and he connected her to a publisher, Random House. Her stepmother, Ruth Chrisman Gannett, had her own skills; she’d just won a Caldecott Honor that year and provided magnificent illustrations for this new book. Ruth’s husband-to-be, Peter Kahn, an artist and typographer, helped with the maps of Wild and Tangerine Islands as well as the book design. A few weeks after this little family project was published on April 12, 1948, it won the Herald Tribune’s Children’s book award—it never hurts an author, then or now, to have friends in high places.

Actually these Herald Tribune judges made a prescient choice, because this delightful and whimsical book has enchanted children for decades. For more information, check out Read Aloud Dad’s blog on the book.  As Nick Clark, Director of the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, says in Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book, “From My Father’s Dragon I learned that you have to use your noodle—and that the underdog can triumph in the end.” So if you want to use your noodle today, pick up a copy of My Father’s Dragon and celebrate Elmer Elevator and the magnificent creators of Wild Island.

Here’s a page from My Father’s Dragon:


Originally posted June 19, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Adventure, Animals, Imagination
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for My Father’s Dragon


  1. This little gem was one of my kids’ favorite first chapter books. The wonderful illustrations add so much to the imaginative storyline – what fun to discover this was a “family project” between the author, her mother and father, and her soon-to-be husband! Reading this aloud to my children was a joy I’ll never forget! We also loved the sequels, ELMER AND THE DRAGON, and THE DRAGONS OF BLUELAND.

  2. Holly says:

    One of our favorite books! I read this with my 8-year-old a couple of years ago and just finished reading it to my 5-year-old (we reviewed it a couple of weeks ago).

  3. You truly have a book for every occasion. Thank you for sharing, every day.

  4. Anita – Thanks for writing about My Father’s Dragon. Since this was my project in your publishing class, I know you wrote this just for me :).

    If your readers want to know a little more about her inspiration for writing this wonderful book, here’s some more stuff.

    She started by writing a story about an old man who has a dull job and what he does to make life interesting is to tell his boys bedtime stories. As the story progressed she found the story needed a new direction. During two weeks at her father’s country house in Cream Hill, Ms. Gannett found new inspiration – from the child within her. She found herself writing it day by day, not knowing what would happen. Every day Elmer Elevator would get into trouble and she had to find a way to get him out.

    She went to her childhood for inspiration. For example, her mother never approved of her chewing gum. She inserted gum into the story because she wanted to introduce something that’s forbidden but when used wisely, can be most helpful. Tangerines figure prominently in the story because they reminded her of the holiday season, when every supermarket had boxes of them. And as for the idea of a dragon, she wanted Elmer to rescue something of importance, that was also unusual.

    Thanks for celebrating this wonderful book, which is an inspiration not only to children, but also to those of us who want to write books for children.

  5. I read this to my four year old a couple months ago– it was one of the first chapter books I’d ever read him. I was thrilled how into it he got!

  6. G.Perry says:

    On a rare occasion, the title of a book will awaken in me something long forgotten. Perhaps something that never had a name, A thing faintly nebulous which arrives unannounced from a distant place. Almost like a psychic whisper saying “Remember? Remember?”

    “My Father’s Dragon is one”. And another is “When You Reach Me.”

    I think from time to time, for specific people, there are unexpected forces from a title, which turn out to have a more profound impact, than the book itself?

    Yes. I think so.

  7. Anita says:

    Thanks everyone for the comment — and Peter for the added material. I did think of you, Peter, as I wrote this. I know how much this book means to you.

  8. My Father’s Dragon was probably the very first “adventure” in the lives of my kids.

    Maps, dragons, talking cats, secret islands, stowaways, wild animals, running away from home…

    I think they were shocked that I took them on such an unexpected adventure from the comfort of their bedroom.

    My Father’s Dragon – is all in one package. Comedy, drama, adventure, thriller, fable, buddy story.

    A mighty punch indeed.

    I expect my twins will never ever forget it.

    Read Aloud Dad

    Plus: My special deep bow to Anita Silvey for including a great shout out to my review of Three Tales of My Father’s Dragon! I’m truly honored!

  9. gwen says:

    A 3rd grade teacher read this to her class, passing out tangerines and lollipops, rubber bands and chewing gum. A little boy who had struggled to learn to read was suddenly motivated. That was my husband (55 years ago). We have a special place in our hearts for this book which I have read to my children (and in their classrooms) and now read to my grandchildren. Imagine my delight seeing this post on the web today. Thank you

  10. Susan Hood says:

    How my husband and I loved reading this to our kids. The perfect introduction to chapter books!
    Just reread it recently, delighting in the thrilling, but not-too-scary art and those wonderful maps. I especially
    love the POV–telling dad’s adventures as a child. It’s reassuring (obviously dad survives his encounters with the tigers, crocs, etc.) and enlightening (dads were once kids like you)!

  11. G. Perry says:

    I loved this book last year, and I love it more this year. Just like this site.

    There are more treasure finds on this website than any book site on the internet.

    Because of Anita, I have to build on another room on in order to store all the new books I can’t turn loose of.

    My contractor loves Anita too. Grin..

  12. Anita says:

    Gordon — thanks. You have been helping me now for almost two years on this project.

  13. Momo says:

    Thanks Anita this book is in my school library but I have not read it. Fathers day in Australia is in September. I will pull this out and read it after your recommendation.

  14. Anita says:

    Momo: Thanks for the comment — and reminding me again of different holiday schedules in different countries.

  15. Hi Anita: Ruth Chrisman was my step-grandmother and Ruth Stiles my aunt (father’s sister). I googled a search phrase just now, looking for something to email a friend about the Dragon series, and came upon yours. These books were written and illustrated when I was a boy in the late 40s, read to me by my grandfather Lewis and grandmother Ruth. Similarly, I did the same for my daughters and grandchildren. A couple of interesting tidbits: In retirement Lewis edited a published anthology of American poetry meant “to be read aloud”. As well, coincidentally, I was Eric Carle’s real estate agent in Northampton MA in the late 80s and early 90s.

  16. Anita says:

    Michael: How wonderful to hear from you. This are books that you can well be proud of, still working their magic after all these years.

  17. Caitlin Kling says:

    I have such wonderful memories of these books! My first grade teacher, Mrs. Leuer, in Maple Grove, MN read My Father’s Dragon aloud to our class over about a week and it sparked a lifelong love of dragons in me! This particular teacher, as well as what would be a string of others, noticed I was a little beyond the rest of the class as far as reading material and grade level, so she loaned me her copies of the rest of the Blueland series so I could finish them on my own! These books meant so much to her, as they were given to her by her father and were read over and over together, and it meant so much to me that she would share them with me.

    Looking back, especially now as a student of children’s lit, I think this is part of why I love this world, continued on to grad school, and can’t seem to leave it…these children’s books have so much meaning behind why we loved them and continue to love them in a way that books for adults just seem to fall short of. It might be the shared experience of parents and children picking books and why they choose a certain book; then that becomes part of the memory. Or if the parent-child dynamic isn’t so happy, a child finding their own books becomes a different, unique experience on their own that shapes their childhood and is something else entirely that becomes part of the memory of the book. But I think it is important that worthy books become these memories! And I’m so glad My Father’s Dragon got to be one of these books for me, and I’ll forever associate my first grade teacher with them. I’m sure that would warm her heart that someone thinks of her with these books in the way she always did with her father.

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