Score: 93/100 (9.3 out of 10)
Precious the Baby Dragon is the highly-anticipated sequel to Dr. Dawn Menge's classic, award-winning book: Dragon's Breath.
This is up there with The Fox's Tower as the most anticipated children's book sequel we've ever read. No kidding!
Dragon's Breath (book one) captivated us with its gorgeous artwork, beautiful characters, and compelling villain: the Dragon. The Dragon was a surprisingly deep, complex, and fascinating character. She was far from pure evil. Instead, she was a sympathetic, misunderstood villain who allowed her desire to be loved, wanted, and adored to override her better judgment. Once she felt she was losing her special place in the hearts of the people, she manipulated the situation in a malicious, short-sighted attempt to turn them back to her. As you might expect, this backfired. However, rather than continuing her reign of terror, she seemed to realize the error of her ways and leave when asked, essentially surrendering to the good guys.
This is not typical villain behavior. Most villains don't usually realize the error of their ways and walk off in defeat. However, the Dragon was not a typical villain. She was a complex character—a real-seeming, believable being. She reminded us of a lover scorned or a mother experiencing empty nest syndrome, taking it to the extreme.
How far would you go to hold onto the people you love? That's a question that the Dragon had to confront herself with. That's a question that a lot of us have to answer throughout our lives. Sometimes, when you try to hold onto someone and smother them, you end up pushing them away. Sometimes, you act and behave irrationally to try to get back with that person, whether they're a past lover, a former friend, or a child who has moved on from you—getting married or going to college.
The Dragon was willing to lie and cheat to get what she thought she wanted, only to realize that she was driving away what she truly wanted: love and acceptance. It's actually tragic when you think about it.
So, Precious the Baby Dragon held the promise of offering some redemption for this tragic character while continuing the story of the kingdom and the loved ones she left behind.
How did it do?
We would say: quite well.
This book did an ok job at continuing the story. With that said, could it have done better? Definitely.
This book takes us back to the Kingdom of Quails, reuniting us with King Teddy Bear & Queen Giggles. Now, right off the bat, we couldn't help but notice: King Teddy & Queen Giggles don't look nearly as polished (or as hot) this time around. Ok, King Teddy still rocks that beard and looks like he's in a Just for Men commercial, but what happened to Queen Giggles? Did she age like thirty years since the last book? She was a young, blonde bombshell, now she's like a grandma all of sudden. Her skin is saggier, her hair is more faded, and her cheek structure is wider than we remember. Maybe we're just misremembering. The first time we saw her on page 5, we were like, “What happened, Queen Giggles?! How did you go from runway model to Golden Girls?” Being a ruler must really take its toll on someone.
Anyway, another thing that kinda bothered us was the design for Precious, the titular baby dragon. Precious looks so much older than she should, especially as a baby. She's also not as cute or as adorable as she could have been. First of all, her head is small and so are her eyes. If you're going for a cute character, you want to make their head and eyes bigger. Next, her hairline appears to be receding. In fact, her receding hairline is the thing that bothered us immediately. Isn't she supposed to be a cute, compelling baby dragon? Why does she look like she's 82?
She also has very sharp rather than angular features, something that's more akin to a villainous or dangerous character.
Now with that said, ironically, the receding hairline is actually the trait that also bothered us about her mother's character design. That's right, the Dragon from the last book also had a receding hairline. So, naturally, it's understandable why Precious has one too. The last thing we'll say about the art/design is that the illustrations sometimes have difficulty with proportions and sizing. On page 9, Giggles is much smaller than Teddy despite them being relatively the same distance from the egg. Likewise, on page 5, the hands of the two characters are much smaller than they should be in proportion to the rest of their bodies.
But ok, those are all nitpicks. This book is generally well illustrated, better so than many of the other books that come our way.
What about the story itself?
Well, this is the story of the life of Precious. It is also a story about nature versus nurture, similar to the last book. Are we born evil or do we become evil? Are we born good or do we become good? Can a positive environment nurture a positive person? What about a negative environment?
Do we still hold some of the darkness that our parents and grandparents had? Are we tainted by our genetics and/or by our heredity? Or are we a blank slate?
This book ambitiously tackles these questions.
However, we kinda felt like it lacked the oomph and impact of the previous book. The previous book was so special and unique because it subverted our expectations for a children's book. It gave us a villain who had as many layers as an onion. We didn't know where the book was going to go.
This time around, we were pretty sure that nothing truly bad could happen. Precious was following a pretty straight-forward character arc of being granted the opportunity to make better choices and be a better person than her mother was.
Ironically, this also somewhat redeems her mother since the characters come to the conclusion that the “Bad Dragon” gave Precious to the kingdom to make up for her transgressions. We then questioned: what if she left Precious behind to destroy the kingdom? Did anyone consider that?
This book, unlike its predecessor, is almost 100% positive, lighthearted, and uplifting. It's more of what you'd expect from a children's book than the previous book. With that, however, it did seem to lack the depth that the previous book had.
However, we're going to give the author credit: topping the previous book was an insurmountable task. Furthermore, Precious really is a better role-model and a more positive character than her mother.
One of the best things about this book is that we can really see the progress and growth that Precious undergoes, not just physically but also mentally. For example, Precious reaches some of the milestones that are unique to her species: learning to fly and learning to breathe fire. She is also knighted (in a ceremony that oddly takes several days). Meanwhile, you still get glimpses of the romantic flame that still burns between Teddy and Giggles such as when he reaches down and grabs her by the arm to prevent her from falling and getting hurt.
Another thing that may hold this book back are the typos. The previous book also had a few typos. In this book, there seems to be an issue with salutations. Usually, when you address another person in dialogue, you want to precede their name with a comma. For example:
“It's not me my Queen” should be “It's not me, my Queen.”
There's also a pretty odd sentence: “She visited the school year each week” which we think was supposed to be “She visited the school yard each week.”
UPDATE: a newer version of the book has fixed many of these grammatical issues. For that reason, we are slightly increasing the score from 9.2 to 9.3.
Let's end on a positive note because a book with this much heart and positive spirit deserves it. This book has great continuity. You really get the idea that the previous book actually happened and that the events in it really mattered to all involved. The characters constantly talk about the “Bad Dragon” and what she did. They even appear to read the school children (and Precious) the story of what happened.
We even get to enjoy a shared literary universe with the rest of Menge's books. For example, Queen Vernita from Menge's other children's book series also makes an appearance. That was quite interesting! We wonder if maybe Queen Vernita may have encountered the Dragon on her many adventures.
This is a really solid children's book featuring a very cool dragon character!
Check it out on Amazon!