This delightful children’s book tells the tale of a young dragon, Long, going to dragon school for the first time. He’s super excited to be there, until he discovers that all of the other dragons breathe fire. Where he’s from, dragons only breathe water. Worse still, his professor’s assignment is for students to learn to control their fire-breathing so that they can prepare food for a big celebration picnic. Will Long be able to figure out how to speak up about who he is so he can join in with his classmates?
Y’know, for all the children’s books that talk about loving yourself and embracing diversity, so many find it difficult to also put forward the idea that kids should be encouraged to speak up for themselves. It can be an absolutely terrifying endeavor but it is so worthwhile, and most of the time, any fear of backlash comes entirely from inside the kid’s head, or is incredibly paltry in comparison to the reward of telling the truth. I learned this lesson the hard way when I was the only person in my second grade class to bring a flowering branch to school, as my teacher had asked for. Embarrassed, I hid it away in the cloakroom, where she found it later and asked. Her disappointment, albeit fleeting, made it pretty clear that I should have spoken up, and not been afraid to stand out. Would my classmates have mocked me? (Maybe, but probably not.) Would it matter if they did? (Not really.) Would I have died of embarrassment if I learned I’d misheard the assignment? (Absolutely not.) I’ve subsequently learned that speaking up is one of the most valuable things a kid can practice, because it means, among other things, enforcing boundaries, opening dialog and ensuring that credit goes where it’s due.
But so few books actually model this, as if afraid of not being nice enough for readers. I was so, so pleased that Long Goes To Dragon School remedies that! Sure, it takes Long quite a bit of time to muster up the courage, but he eventually stands up for who he is, explains his dilemma succinctly, and works with his teacher to solve the problem together. It’s an absolutely essential message for good communication that I’ll cherish for a long time.
Helen H Wu is a first-generation immigrant who’s spent a lot of time observing and considering how to reconcile the differences between Chinese and American cultures, and it shows. Her story is thoughtful and profound, yet completely age-appropriate. It also made me crave dim sum super hard by the end of the book.
Mae Besom is an award-winning illustrator whose watercolor and pencil work is well-suited for this story. I felt like the illustrations weren’t the best defined in my digital copy, but imagine the physical would look much more impressive.
Overall, get this for any kid who needs their self-esteem boosted, and for any kid who could use a little diversity boost as well.
Long Goes To Dragon School by Helen H. Wu & Mae Besom was published today March 21 2023 by Yeehoo Press and is available from all good booksellers, including