A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder has one of those titles you cannot resist and story you should not resist. It is cute, funny, and underneath that, deep as the two title characters learn about what it means to have a pet, what it means to have a friend, and how to say good-bye to a loved one.
Miss Drake is mourning the death of her pet, Fluffy, also known as Great Aunt Amelia, when the young, pushy, and sometimes downright rude Winnie shows up at the house. Miss Drake is a long-lived dragon and has kept several generations of Fluffy’s human family as pets, but she is not sure about Winnie, the latest member of the family. Perhaps with some proper training the girl will turn into a good pet. The only trouble is, Winnie seems to think Miss Drake is her pet, or, perhaps, a friend. In any case, she resists training.
Still, Miss Drake cannot help but admire Winnie’s pluck, and she relates to the girl’s grief for her father. She takes the girl to visit some of the magical people of San Francisco and buys her a sketchbook. Then Winnie’s drawings come alive and escape. In order to keep the magical community hidden, the two must round up all of them and return them to the book. It turns out, some of them are more trouble than others.
Yep and Ryder have given the book a fairly quiet pace, letting Miss Drake and Winnie get to know one another and talk about their loved ones as they explore the city. The escape of the Sketchlings gives the two a mission urgent enough to keep them going and to provide some tension, but not so urgent that they cannot enjoy tea together. It is near the end that the biggest danger shows up, after the ties have developed. The bonding between girl and dragon is given enough time to develop, with plenty of humor as Miss Drake tries to “train” her new pet and Winnie ignores the hints and orders. The friendship between the dragon and the girl is warm and real, and their process through grief touching.
There is also plenty of magic and wonder, some quite literal with a store in the clouds, dragons, and unexpected creatures. Also, Miss Drake loves the un-magical part of the city and takes Winnie to see some of the more ordinary parts that readers might see and appreciate in their own world.
The book is somewhat unusual for a middle-grade book as it is told from Miss Drake’s point of view as she discovers humans in her house rather than from Winnie’s perspective. This gives the book cross-generational appeal and is one of the few books that also portrays a believable adult-child friendship.
A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans is recommended to lovers of fantasy, humor, and friendship.