Remembering your manners when visiting with friends can be a challenge. Preschoolers and dragons will relate to Caryl Hart’s book, When a Dragon Comes to Stay, as it explores different situations a small child, or dragon, might experience during a visit to a friend’s house. Ms. Hart talked with Magination Press about creating When a Dragon Comes to Stay in this interview.
Magination Press: What inspired you to write When a Dragon Comes to Stay?
Caryl Hart: The initial idea for the book came from my editor at Nosy Crow. She asked me if I’d like to write a book about a preschool-aged dragon using the concept: “Why no, dragons don’t do that!”
Of course I said yes straight away!
MP: Why did you decide to write a book about manners?
CH: We wanted to find a fun way to model good behavior for preschool children – to create a book that was engaging for children but also carried some universal messages to support parents. I do feel this has been especially important over the past year as children have been socializing less and have had fewer opportunities to work out how to get along with others.
MP: Why did you choose a dragon to be the visitor?
CH: Dragons are often cast as baddies in children’s literature so the expectation is that they will always be mean, scary, and unkind. Using a dragon as the main character gives us a unique opportunity to play with that role. The book first suggests how a dragon might behave – for example, will she snatch and keep the toys from other little girls and boys? But then quickly clarifies that in fact, a dragon will wait her turn and always share.
So the book gives caregivers and children lots of opportunities to discuss how they or their friends might deal with certain situations and experiment with ideas on the best ways to behave. Children love to take the higher moral ground, so find the idea of a dragon behaving badly very funny!
It was also lovely to be able to create a very young dragon character – I think you’ll agree that Ros Beardshaw’s illustrations are absolutely adorable!
MP: Why did you choose to explore manners at home, as opposed to manners at a party or somewhere else?
CH: This book is set at home because we’re focusing on preschool children, many of whom spend a lot of time playing at home with their friends. The second book in the series, When a Dragon Goes to School is set, as the title suggests, in a school environment. We have more books in production that draw on different settings, so watch this space!
MP: What was it like to see your illustrator Rosalind Beardshaw’s interpretation of your words? Was it your idea or hers to depict multiracial siblings?
CH: Ros’s illustrations are completely adorable and I know it took a lot of work to get the characters just right. Both Ros and I are great advocates for diversity in children’s books – as you’ll see if you know other books each of us has worked on. The design of the characters came from Ros and her work with the designers at Nosy Crow, but if she hadn’t already given them different skin tones and hair types, I would have requested that this would be considered.
Luckily, both Ros and I, and the editors and designers at Nosy Crow are all committed to making our books as representative as possible of our wonderfully diverse communities. We all believe very strongly that children need to be able to see themselves, and their communities in the books they read.
MP: What is your favorite part about writing children’s books? What is your least favorite part?
CH: I love seeing the different stages of a book evolve once it’s in production. As an author, I create the text and then this is laid out on pages by a designer. It’s then the illustrator’s job to fill the spaces with images. Both text and images go through many iterations before the final design is agreed and it’s fabulous to see the whole thing grow and change until the final book is realized.
Editing can be a real challenge, especially when a text is written in rhyme. I can spend weeks working on a particular verse, only for my editor to ask for it to be totally changed. Even changing one or two words can be tricky because it can alter the scansion (rhythm) or rhyming pattern so it can be hard. But I’m well practiced by now and know that all the hard work is worth it in the end!
MP: What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
CH: I’m a bit of a fitness nut so I usually do some sort of exercise in my down-time. I try to do a decent workout most weekdays. At the moment this is in my garage at home, though in more normal times I go to the gym. Best of all, I love walking and mountain biking with friends. We live close to the Peak District in the UK Midlands, so I love getting out into the hills for a good ride or stomp, especially if there’s a picnic involved!
MP: Is there a fun fact about you that readers might not know that you’d like to share?
CH: I’ve had no formal training to be a writer. My degree was in Biology and my early career was in nature conservation. I only started trying to write for children when my first child was a toddler. Like many parents, I thought it would be easy as pie to write a children’s book! Of course, it’s much more difficult than it looks, and it took me a long time to go from aspiration to reality!
MP: What was your favorite children’s book when you were growing up?
CH: When I was small, I loved Snuffy by Dick Bruna. It’s about a little girl who is lost. Snuffy the dog finds her and gives her a ride home on his back. I really wanted to be that little girl!
Related Books from Magination Press
When a Dragon Comes to Stay
Little dragon visits her toddler friends. Will she behave herself? Of course! Dragons do their best to have good manners. But sometimes, everyone needs a reminder of how important they are.
It will be hard for readers not to fall in love with the adorable dragon as she charms her friends and helps them learn their manners.