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Book review: The Dragons Are Singing Tonight, by Jack Prelutsky and Peter Sis

Webmaster’s note 1/15/2016: This is an old review from the previous version of the site, which we’re bringing in as a post so that it’ll be searchable in the reviews categories with newer content.

The Dragons Are Singing  Tonight

The Dragons Are Singing Tonight
Poems by Jack Prelutsky
Pictures by Peter Sis
ISBN 068809645X

reviewed by Maria Bellamy

I am wild about a book that I discovered by chance today. I bought it as a present for a little boy, but the more I look at it, the less I want to give it away!

The oversized book is a collection of 17 poems about dragons, each one set in a double-page full-color painting of wonderful artistry.

Several of the poems are written from dragons’ points of view, including one who brags, one who’s tired of his image, one who’s loudly ferocious, and one who’s little and self-proclaimed nasty (my current favorite).

Other poems feature narrators who have dragons in their lives, with various reactions: fear, delight, concern for a sick one, anticipation of the egg that’s about to hatch.

The poems are in a well-planned order, anticipating readers’ reactions and dropping such poems as “If You Don’t Believe in Dragons” into just the right place in the book. Some selections are very funny, but others elicit much more mixed emotions. The final poem in the collection finds a beautiful balance of mood between a sadness that dragons don’t exist anymore and the secret conviction that wonders are around, if you know how to spot them.

The poems are well-crafted, with an absolute attention to such techniques as rhyme, alliteration, figurative language, and a rhythm that makes them very fun to read aloud and even try to put to a tune. Although imaginative children will delight in the poems, they are definitely adult read-alouds, since the vocabulary is not for young readers to attempt alone: for example, preposterous, stratagems, disconsolate, derision, happenstance, cacophonous. One reason I love the book is my belief that after a few readings, young listeners’ vocabularies will expand to permanently include these splendid words.

I cannot say enough about the illustrations in this collection. Each poem has its own huge painting of dragons of all hues and expressions, varying from a kid-friendly cartoonishness to some quite grand art. Each is unique, right down to its individual page border. Some clarify the poem, and all capture the right mood in rich, deep, distinctive colors. If I were publishing the book, I would not allow these wonderful pictures to be broken into two pages; I would at least offer a version the same size as this book when it is opened, but put a wire binding across the top. In fact, I would make it hangable, so as to be a rotating poster display.

I have spent hours today perusing the pictures, discovering more details in them, and reading the poems out loud to myself. I just placed a call to the bookstore; I have another copy on hold now, so I’m going to take this one to a young dragon-lover tomorrow. The kid’s just lucky I could find one for myself.