How to Train Your Dragon

How to Train Your Dragon

Author Cressida Cowell Book Review

Our entire family loved Dreamworks Animation’s movie, “How to Train Your Dragon.” Not only was it funny and inspiring, but we all seemed to identify with the hero of the movie, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III. Hiccup was small, brainy, and as non-Viking as one could get, but he wanted to be a real Viking.

In many ways, my children were small, brainy, and not very coordinated or athletic. It's not that they struggled socially, but they wanted to fit in with their peers. Hiccup was an inspiration for them.

My 14-year-old son was a pianist and often played by ear. He could play two of the three music themes he could hear in the movie’s theme song, but it wasn’t good enough. He badgered his twin sister until she played the missing theme on the violin. And then our windows regularly vibrated to How to Train Your Dragon.

I love to read and more often than not the original book is better than Hollywood's adaption. So, I went searching for the book. I discovered a wonderful surprise.

Even though the book and movie share character names and situations, setting, and dragons, they don’t share the same plot. I love both of them. There is no need to compare them because there is no comparison.

Cressida Cowell’s World

Cowell and I have a childhood connection.

I grew up on a ranch in northeastern Utah. My father owned high mountain grazing land. We stayed up there for weeks at a time herding cows, fixing fences, exploring, and checking water conditions.

As a child, this was a fantasy playground. We had no electricity or running water. We used lanterns and candles at night. We trekked out to the outhouse when nature called, and we took baths in a number three tub with water we’d pulled out of the well with a bucket.

Award-winning English children’s book author, Cressida Cowell, grew up in London. However, like me she spent her formative childhood summers without electricity, running water, or neighbors on a small uninhabited island off the west coast of Scotland.

Her family depended upon the fish they caught in their small boat. In the evenings, her father entertained everyone with old Scottish tales of Vikings, trickery, and dragons living in the cliff caves. Besides catching fish, Cowell’s days on the island involved exploring the cliff caves, the heather, or the rocky beaches with her father’s stories setting her imagination on fire. She also spent a great deal of time with paper and pencil writing and drawing.

Unlike me, Cowell got a BA in English Literature. I got a BS in Civil Engineering. Cowell got her literature degree from Oxford University, a BA in Graphic Design from St. Martin, and a master’s degree in Narrative Illustration from Brighton.

How to Train Your Dragon Plot

Cowell’s writing style and understanding of childhood perceptions, concerns, and humor make this series perfect for read-aloud reading to young children or as an early chapter book for ages 7-12 years-old.

Unlike the movie, dragons are a normal part of domestic Viking life in Cowell’s book. Small dragons about the size of a Labrador are trained and used for hunting. As a rite of passage, eleven-year-old members of the tribe must climb the cliff, capture a dragon, and train it to obey commands.


Hiccup is, of course, the smallest of the initiation class and picks the smallest dragon. His dragon, Toothless, is unwilling to obey him. And Hiccup doesn’t have the desire or capacity to overpower Toothless with the normal Viking yelling, but he does know dragonese. With a great deal of entertaining banter, Hiccup is finally ready for the initiation test and to become a hero when monster-sized sea dragons wash up on their tiny island.

This initial book becomes the basis for an additional eleven books about the Island of Berk, Viking traditions, and dealing with pirates and Romans. Children adore Coswell’s use of childhood humor and tales of employing trickery to make everything work out alright.

Cowell’s Illustration Style

Both the How to Train Your Dragon and the Wizards of Once series are illustrated by Cowell in an almost childlike style. Her unique style draws young readers into the world she has created by identifying with the child’s own personal drawing capabilities. Illustrations appear on most pages of these books almost like Cowell is doodling as she goes.

Books written and illustrated by Cressida Cowell include:

  • The How to Train Your Dragon Book Series
  • The Wizards of Once Series

Picture Books written by Cressida Cowell and illustrated by Neal Layton

  • The Emily Brown Series

Children’s Book Awards:

  • Nestlé Children Book Prize in 2006 for This Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown
  • Blue Peter Book Award in 2018 for The Wizards of Once

Delve into the magical world of Cressida Cowell.

Cowell’s books are written in such a way that children readily identify with her characters. Her use of trickery and simple humor have young readers begging for more.

When a child identifies with a character, they feel heard and verified. They can better put into words their feelings and see possible solutions and positive outcomes for their challenges.

Our goal here at Teacher Power is to empower students and teachers to reach for the stars, discover their talents, and find satisfaction and enjoyment in life. Discover the power of Teacher Power today!


Article by Miss Jae


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