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February 24, 2017

Caroline McAlister Book Receives Positive Review

Caroline McAlister’s illustrated children's book, John Ronald's Dragons: The Story of J.R.R. Tolkien, has received a positive review in The Horn Book Magazine, excerpted below.

This picture-book biography of J. R. R. Tolkien shows the roots of many themes later found in The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. McAlister introduces John as a boy who loves horses, trees, words, and especially dragons. We see young John encountering dragons in Andrew Lang’s famous colored Fairy Books, making up a language with his cousin, and eventually fighting in WWI, teaching, and writing stories. Despite Tolkien’s sometimes-difficult young life (after his mother died, he and his brother lived with an aunt who “didn’t like boys”), the prevailing tone is one of warmth and security. Wheeler’s illustrations, in what look like line and watercolor, are deftly executed in light colors with carefully placed darker shades that ground her compositions. Swirling shapes and trees silhouetted against pearly skies are reminiscent of Rackham, an appropriate reference given the subject and time period. The book finishes with Tolkien’s conception of The Hobbit; the final illustration shows the author “discovering” the great dragon Smaug in his mountain cave. An author’s note fills in the gaps in Tolkien’s story, and an illustrator’s note points out pictorial references to actual books, locations, and people not mentioned in the text. “A Catalog of Tolkien’s Dragons,” “Quotes from Tolkien’s Scholarly Writing on Dragons,” and a bibliography are appended. - Lolly Robinson