________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 17 . . . . April 28, 2006


Once Upon a Dragon: Stranger Safety for Kids (and Dragons).

Jean E. Pendziwol. Illustrated by Martine Gourbault.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2006.
32 pp., pbk. & cl., $6.95 (pbk.), $17.95 (cl.).
ISBN 1-55337-969-1 (pbk.), ISBN 1-55337-722-2 (cl.).

Subject Headings:
Children and strangers-Juvenile fiction.
Children-Crimes against-Prevention-Juvenile fiction.

Preschool-grade 2 / Ages 3-7.

Review by Lori Walker.

*** /4


Up the ladder we flew, then we hopped on the slide
For a hair-raising, thump-bumping, jumbled-up ride.

Holding on tight, ‘round curve and ‘round bend,
We were finally tossed in a pile at the end.

I laughed as I picked myself up off the ground,
Then I stopped.  Where were we? I looked all around

The dragon was dressed in a red cloak and hood;
Behind him I spotted a wolf in the wood.

“Oh Dragon,” I said. “Oh, Dragon! Look! Look!
I think that we’ve landed  INSIDE of your book!

“Looks like Chapter One,” I told my green friend.
“Stay with me and we’ll take this path to the book’s end.”


In fairy tales, there is no mistaking good and evil. Jean Pendziwol uses rhyming couplets to revisit a few classic fairy tales and introduce safety tips in the third of her safety books, Once Upon A Dragon: Stranger Safety for Kids (and Dragons). The child narrator of the tale, cleverly androgynous, heads out with Mom and a dragon friend to the park. Dragon brings along his storybook into which the two are transported after a collision on the slide. Dragon takes the part of Red Riding Hood in Chapter One with the wise child narrator warning that, despite a wolf’s claims that there is a faster route, there are dangers should they stray from the path. Next, the two are lured toward a candy covered gingerbread house, with child narrator pulling Dragon back from the dangers within. Snow White, the Gingerbread Boy, and Cinderella scenarios are also visited, and dangers are averted each time, courtesy of the wise child. The two return to the playground with the help of a good fairy who shows them the way back home through the end of the book.

internal art

     The book concludes with information for adult readers on how to talk to kids about stranger safety and a checklist of points to cover with their children. A “Dragon’s Stranger Safety Rhyme” is also included where safety messages are made more explicit.

     Once Upon a Dragon offers a solid introduction to stranger safety for three and four-year-olds. Martine Gourbault’s cartoon-like illustrations, rendered in pencil crayon, are bright and appealing, and there are lots of familiar fairy tale scenarios with which young readers can connect. The choice of fairy tales is logical, of course, as educating about “stranger danger” was a large part of their evolution and survival. However, instead of incorporating the more contemporary safety strategies into the text, where it might have been more effectively (and efficiently) communicated, the book leaves the tough stuff to parents. My experience with parents’ back pages is that, if I haven’t read it in advance and “studied” up, my audience is onto the next book or activity as soon as the story part ends. And while the author acknowledges that there are safe strangers to call on for help (in this case identified by the fairy godmother’s wand), a nagging worry remained. Some bad apples can look great from the outside and even take the form of family or friend. This book will contribute to discussions of child safety for younger children, but the challenge of addressing this complex issue remains.


Lori Walker is completing a Masters in Children’s Literature at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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