How to Train Your Dragon
by Cressida Cowell, read by David Tennant
Hodder Children's Books, 2004
This is a first for this blog: an audiobook review! Yes, I have finished one! It was a combination of the engaging story and the mellifluous tones of David Tennant, who could read the phone book and have an avid listener in me. Actually, I should probably give Tennant the lion's (dragon's?) share of the credit here. I have never enjoyed an audiobook so thoroughly, at least in recent memory. I do remember listening to Letters from Wingfield Farm by Dan Needles and The Speckled Band by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle avidly as a child. The Elephant's Child by Kipling, narrated by Jack Nicholson with music by Bobby McFerrin, remains my firm standard for the best audiobook and possibly one of the best things ever. But lately? I have taken out many audiobooks from the library, and finished none of them.
Except this one. I know there has been a movie, and I know kids have enjoyed reading this book, but it has largely flown under my radar. But it crossed the desk the other day and I thought, you know what, I'm going to try it. This summer has involved a lot more driving than usual, and while I love me some CBC Radio One, they're pretty bad about re-broadcasting in the summer. So it's nice to have something on hand for emergencies. And pretty much from the opening moments I knew that I was going to enjoy this story.
Hiccup is a Viking. He's the son of the Chief of the Hairy Hooligans. The problem is, Hiccup is not much of a Viking at all. He prefers peace and quiet for thinking to violence and mayhem; he's far more brain than brawn. Therefore, he's also the constant target for bullying by his brawnier cousin Snotlout (who would very much like to depose Hiccup) and his followers. This only gets much worse after the boys claim their dragons, and Hiccup ends up with a... rather unique dragon, shall we say? I don't want to spoil anything, as the initial dragon catching is half the fun. The second half of the fun comes when an enormous Sea Dragonus Maximus washes up in a cove, and it's possible that Hiccup and his dragon may be the only hope the tribe has of survival.
The story is silly and charming, walking a fine line between being a bit too twee and really funny. In fact, if I was reading this story, I could see the puns being almost too irritating; but as a read-aloud, particularly by the supremely talented Tennant, it's awesome. I laughed out loud at several points. Tennant has found the perfect voice for the various characters, with the exception of Hiccup's dragon who I did find to be almost unlistenable (but I suspect that might be at least partially on purpose.)
The characters are entertaining and very endearing and/or evil, depending on what they're supposed to be. At least, that is for those characters who are fleshed out enough to have personalities. This being the first in a series, I think there are lots of opportunities for further character development in both the mains and the secondaries.
The humour appeals largely to my kid-brain, with snot, for example, being copiously mentioned, and a seven-foot Viking trying to appear heroic in his sister's dress. Highly recommended for children between -- oh, the ages of six or seven, and ten or twelve or so, and their parents; I suspect teens will find this too juvenile for their tastes unless being forced to listen to it because of a younger sibling, at which point they will secretly enjoy themselves.