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How to Train Your Dragon, Cressida Cowell 

I just have to start by voicing my extreme displeasure that I didn’t grow up with these books. It’s a tragedy. While I thoroughly enjoyed them in adulthood, I can only imagine how amazing it would be to grow up with the story and follow these fantastic characters from the same age. 

If you’re like me, you might have had no idea this story wasn’t just a really awesome and fun movie series that definitely made you wish you had a dragon. I remember finishing a watch through of the first movie and seeing the credit “Based on the book by Cressida Cowell” and thinking it might be worth a read. So the next time I was on a hunt for new books in the library, I decided to give the first book a try. What followed was nothing short of a full-on drop into literary insanity as a gobbled up the awesome world of the Barbaric Archipelago.

What’s the Book?

The How to Train Your Dragon series is a twelve book  Like the films, it takes place in a world full of dragons and Vikings. Where the books differ is that in the original world human and dragon relationships are already a well-established facet of Viking society. Our hero Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III doesn’t start his adventures trying to change his world and build bridges. He’s just trying to survive and get by in a world where he is just about the biggest misfit around and can never seem to do things the normal, expected, acceptable way no matter how hard he tries. A relatable theme to most readers. 

The book plot follows a young hero trying to find his place in the world while being constantly dogged by fantastic, dragon-filled adventures that he always manages to escape or conquer in just the nick of time. Add in a scheming, one-handed villain with a personal vendetta against poor Hiccup, a hilarious cast of supporting characters (both dragon and human) and you have the perfect recipe for a fantastic read!

Why It’s a Top Ten

So what makes this series stand out amongst the others I read last year? It boils down to the quality of storytelling and incredible crafting. The characters who were already so relatable in such simple, recognizable ways are put through trials, again and again, that grow in intensity while never losing the sweetness and heart behind the story. You watch Hiccup transform from a nervous, reluctant, scrawny ten-year-old into a capable, responsible teenager. His reluctance to be in the spotlight changes from finding whatever his fellow Vikings are doing ridiculous to being unsure if he’s worthy and able to get the job done without letting others down. 

It’s hard to tell the exact moment the story changes, but any reader picking up these books will suddenly find themselves wanting to pump the brakes and turn back time because everything seems to be going wrong and slipping out of control. What started as fun adventures and narrow escapes starts to take on more sinister and disastrous perils as Hiccup’s opposition intensifies its efforts, leaving a reader full of questions. How can this mess be fixed? How can things go back to the way they were? What will the cost be? These are much bigger problems than when the books started. How is Hiccup going to save the day this time? It’s a careful balancing act, but one that no juvenile author can afford to ignore. 

That’s part of what makes books like the Harry Potter series such a triumph among readers. A good author knows how to make their story grow with a reader. As C.S. Lewis famously noted, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”. A good series needs to grow at the same pace as a reader and transform into something they can see themselves in at other stages of life.  Authors like Cowell are absolute masters at doing exactly that. 

You may start the books laughing at the selfish hijinks of cheeky Toothless (who can talk to Hiccup in the books!), but you will end the books willing a scared, but courageous teenager to be brave for just a little longer because you hope the same for yourself. And at the end of the day, that’s what we want out of a good adventure story: to read about heroes and warriors in the hopes that we could be so brave ourselves if need be.

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