by Cressida Cowell
Hodder Children's Books, 2003 (UK)
Little, Brown and Company, 2004 (US)

How to Train Your Dragon is a children's fantasy novel, although it is currently much more well known as an animated movie of the same name. This review will deal with only the book, although the movie is certainly well worth watching.

Hiccough the Viking is rather unpopular. He is a bit scrawny (for a viking), just a bit of a wimp, and somewhat nerdy (he knows how to read, for example). None of the other kids look up to him, and none of the bigger, more popular kids respect him... at all. His one saving grace is that he is the son of the chief, and therefore great things are expected of him in the future. Certainly not right now, but maybe, someday...

The great Dragon Initiation Test is coming up, when the boys of the tribe climb up the Wild Dragon Cliff and steal a baby dragon from the twisty caverns within. Things go wrong quite quickly, but they all get about alive (barely), and they all manage to get a dragon (so no-one will be exiled today), but Hiccough ends up with the smallest, scrawniest Common Garden Dragon you've ever seen, and his cousin ends up with the traditional chief's dragon, the Monstrous Nightmare. Hiccough is stuck with the nearly impossible challenge of training his dragon to be worthy of the son of a chief, or failing that, to train it not to poop on anyone. His dragon is not happy with this.

Things go from bad to worse, and Hiccough ends up facing the definite possibility of exile, and perhaps worse. But he does have a secret (and forbidden) weapon -- he has taught himself how to talk to dragons. Which is just another thing that might get him exiled, unless he can also figure out how to convince his dragon to cooperate.

This book is a bit silly. It makes absolutely no attempt to be true to the historical setting or to adhere to logical limits. It is fairly silly in other ways as well -- changing fonts and font sizes, unnecessary alliteration, and gratuitous references to underwear. Once you accept that it is a silly book for third graders, it's not bad. Cressida Cowell also did the illustrations for the book, which are, quite frankly, crappy. But they are intended to be, as they are supposed to be Hiccough's own sketches, done with a leaky pen. I did not particularly enjoy them, but they do enhance the overall silliness of the book.

How to Train Your Dragon is recommended for ages 8-11, and I would expect that it will not appeal to children much older than that. It is rather limited in character depth and development, the jokes are a bit immature, and there really are much better books about dragons out there. But if your child has graduated from Captain Underpants, this might be a good next-step series.

There are currently eleven books in the series:

ISBN-10: 9780316085274
ISBN-13, 978-0316085274
Accelerated Reader Level: 6.6