How To Tame Dragons And Hush Hyenas, by Kerry Orchard, illustrated by Roberto Gonzalez
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Author’s Den/Burroughs Manor Press. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
Although I have no children (yet) of my own, from time to time I review children’s books and have often found the books to be very enjoyable . This book is a rare case where a book is of more personal relevance to me, especially because the publisher of these books focuses on books relating to mental health issues for children. Given that I was diagnosed with PTSD as a small child myself, mental health issues as they relate to children is a cause I feel particularly passionate about, and it was nice to know that this was an interest of the publisher’s and the author’s after having requested the book. As this is one of three books by the author that I see available so far, I expect to read my way through the other two as soon as I am able to do so. This is not a book that should be challenging to most readers, although its vivid vocabulary and striking visuals should make it a favorite for children who may not fully understand the point it is making.
That said, this is a book whose content has a definite purpose. The story is one of an elementary school child who is having a very bad day. His bad day manifests itself in two breakdowns that are described with immensely vivid descriptions. His first meltdown causes a half a dozen hyenas to rampage in the classroom, after which he is able to calm down, and the second meltdown leads to nine fiery dragons causing havoc everywhere. The wise reader, of course, will know that young Jeremy of the uncontrollable volcanic rage is responsible for the damage caused by the hyenas and dragons, but children who are learning how to control their anger will likely appreciate the personification of that anger as a wild beast and not themselves. Even the little details of the book, like the four zones shown on a chalkboard in the classroom, provide worthwhile food for thought for those reading the book, encouraging readers to monitor their own emotional state and to take action accordingly, depending on whether they are feeling sad or angry, or various other emotions.
Ultimately, this book has a clear goal in mind in encouraging children to take responsibility for controlling their emotions. Developing empathy and having some useful tactics to managing irritation and frustration are certainly worthwhile and beneficial, and this book manages to instruct while also entertaining. This is educational literature that definitely goes down easily. Some children wear trouble like a t-shirt, it seems, and this is a book that is written for such children. It is all the more remarkable for its restraint in not blaming the uncontrollable rage on outside factors or allowing for a victim mentality–perhaps a victim of genes or environment–but rather encouraging the reader to take responsibility for their own anger and to learn impulse control as a part of growth and maturity. This sort of approach is a winning one, and is done in such a way that it serves morally and educationally worthwhile ends while also being written and illustrated in such a winsome and enjoyable way as to entertain the very people who are being educated by it. This book certainly has a lot to offer as a model for an educational approach that understands that teaching personal responsibility need not seem boring or off-putting.
 See, for example: