Yesterday I shared the book Demi's Dragons And Fantastic Creatures with the children. I first read it as one of my Chinese New Year books many years ago after having found it at the library. I must have been lucky because it hasn't been available since. Demi has written and illustrated many wonderful books, but none as magnificent as this. I don't understand why it's out of print, but at the time I wound up paying $75 for my copy, although I see that it's available today via Amazon for much less.
Unlike the essentially evil European dragons, the dragons of Chinese mythology are symbols of power, strength and good luck. I use the word "metaphor" and tell the children that the Chinese imagined that these wise, benevolent, yet slightly frightening creatures live within and control every aspect of the world. Demi depicts such figures as the Mountain Dragon, the Thunder Dragon, the Creative Dragon, The Earthly Dragon, and the Fire Dragon, with their fantastically marbleized bodies, fangs, whiskers and long tails.
As I open the beautiful three and four panel fold outs, I tell the kids the name of the dragon, then elicit their comments. I try to keep the discussion on topic as best I can, but it tends to be a rather wide-ranging affair as one might expect with creatures as magnificent and powerful as these.
Some of the kids ask questions of vital concern, such as Alex's question about the Heavenly Dragon: "Is that one a girl?" Others want to know what those "balls" are (pearls of wisdom) or if dragons are real (only in our imaginations). Some insist they've seen these dragons, like Marcus' spotting of the Mountain Dragon while hiking in the mountains with his family, or Katherine's glimpse of the Fire Dragon while camping. Lachlan told us about the Fire Dragon he saw flying away when the fire truck arrived at a neighbor's house.
Demi describes the Creative Dragon as one that "flows through your mind," which is a descriptive phrase I use for all of the dragons. Many of the children pick up on the phrase and use it in their comments, like Thomas did when telling us about a thunderstorm he experienced while on a family trip to Spokane: "The Thunder Dragon was really flowing through my mind! And the Lightening Dragon too!"
As happens every year, the conversation could have gone on for an hour. I've found the beauty of the illustrations and the magic of dragons to be a powerful combination.
Today we begin the "rushed and frantic" process of getting ready for the New Year (February 14). There is cleaning, and cooking and decorating to do. We will prepare our red banners, buy "new" clothes, and wish good luck to everyone we see. And, of course, we will bang our pots and pans (firecrackers are illegal in the city limits) to frighten away the evil spirits. But before we can do any of this, we must create our powerful classroom dragons to protect and inspire us. I'll share our creations with you tomorrow.
Gung Hay Fat Choy!