When a Dragon Moves In

   When a Dragon Moves In is author Jodi Moore's debut picture book and illustrator Howard McWilliam's second picture book following I Need My Monster.  With summer only a few weeks away (here in Texas), I thought this would be the perfect fourth installation in our Blueberry Books.  You can forget about padded poems and accurate animal habitats for this one.  All the unnecessary fluff has been peeled away to reveal pure ingenuity of the imagination. 

The Story

   Eyes shut, nose to the clouds, with a wide grin and the sun dancing on his cheeks, the boy races down to the beach to begin creating his masterpiece, the jewel of the Jersey Shore, a sandcastle!  Much to his surprise, the towering treasure is a mere shadow compared to what comes next because "if you build a perfect sandcastle, a dragon will move in."  Only then does the real fun begin!

   Who knew all the extraordinary amenities that come with having a dragon for a friend?  A dragon can breathe just the right amount of fire to golden your marshmallows and can use his wings to keep your kite flying high instead of nose-diving into the sand!  A dragon so wonderfully plentiful and thoughtful will provide the luxury of a life raft in the water and will protect your precious sandcastle with its mighty strength if bullies threaten it! 

  The boy tries and tries to get his mom, his dad, his sister, or anyone to believe him and appreciate the wonder and excitement when he proclaims there is a dragon on the beach!  But no one will pay any attention.  Mom won't look up from her book other than to offer a lackluster and skeptical, "Mmmm...hmmm."  Dad attempts to debunk a feather from his dragon's wing by claiming it is a seagull's feather.  "But you and your dragon will know better."

   Just when the boy thinks it can't get any better than having a generous and courageous friend, the dragon's tummy grumbles.  And like when my tummy is empty, the dragon becomes irritable and starts acting out.  The mischief begins.  What starts as innocent enough bubble blowing in his lemonade, moves on to include sandwiches and desserts disappearing, and ends with his sister being overcome in a suspiciously isolated sandstorm.  I say "ends" because the boy tires of being blamed for all the dragon's naughtiness and sends him away..."at least until tomorrow".

The Storytellers

   Jodi Moore's creativity put a smile on my face before I even opened the book.  Just the title made me wonder, "Well, what does happen when a dragon moves in?"  I adored all the activities that a dragon could amplify, but my favorite idea was that a dragon could be a "built-in marshmallow toaster".  And Howard McWilliam's striking imagery (created with pencil on paper, then printed with digital acrylic paint) conveyed both the warmth of the beach and the magic of each and every antic with ease.  The animation in each grin and grimace reminded me how important each moment is through a child's eyes. 

   Jodi was raised in The Garden State and drew inspiration from her numerous childhood memories on the Jersey shore.  I can hear her autobiography now, "Jodi Moore is from the Jersey shore." 

I think this is hilarious.

   I love hearing how an author is inspired to write a story and I found an interview on The Storyteller's Scroll with Jodi that did not disappoint.  She and her husband had just recently become empty nesters.  "Admittedly, we were both a bit depressed that first Labor Day as we made our way to a local beach. It’s not that we didn’t love being with each other. It’s just that this was the very first holiday we didn’t have the kids with us. We missed our boys.

   My husband brought our satchel of sand toys anyway. Buckets, shovels, molds. He began to build a sandcastle. And, as happens when one builds a sandcastle, he began to also attract the little children on the beach. I flitted around to the ever-growing gaggle of anxious moms, explaining why a mature man would be building a sandcastle, seemingly alone, and resulting in luring their babies toward him. 'Please excuse us,' I implored. 'We’re going through empty nest. My husband just misses our boys. This is something they always did together.' Anxiety was replaced by understanding smiles as the army of toddlers grew, each one 'helping' my husband in his/her own way. At one point, one of the children stuck a piece of seaweed in the opening. 'Look,' my husband enthused, 'it’s a dragon tail. A dragon moved in to our castle!' ...A book idea was conceived."

   After Jodi found a publisher, Howard was assigned to illustrate and a perfect match was made.  From his personal website, he explains, "In late 2005, I left my day job as a financial journalist and editor to pursue my true love of illustration full time.  My illustration career had been bubbling away in the background for several years."  Since, "He has won various awards and competitions for his work and is published in a wide range of UK magazines and newspapers, including The Daily Telegraph and The Week," I think it's safe to say his career as an illustrator has bubbled over into success.

The Review

   The pair created an engaging story that already makes my girls laugh and will hopefully spark their imaginations more as they get a little bit older and understand the story better.  When a Dragon Moves In is for ages 4 through 8 and has been recognized with the following awards:

  • Indie Next Kids' Pick, Summer 2011
  • 2011 ABC Best of Books Catalog Pick
  • Georgia Children's Book Award list 2012-13
and now...
  • out of 5 blueberries from my girls!  This has become one of those books they request again and again, night after night!

    You can buy it here or here!  It would be a great gift paired with some sand toys for a summer birthday party or for an announcement to your children that a summer vacation is in the works! And don't forget to check out all the fun, printable activities for home and school here!  Natalia Ortega-Brown of A Picture Book A Day recommends it, as well as suggests another classroom activity by stating, "When a Dragon Moves In is a fun read aloud.   It follows the familiar structure of 'if you...then.'  I've used this type of book in my classroom and had students create their own 'if, then' picture books and they have a blast."

Thanks for stopping by!
Add caption


  1. Isla, your lovely review has put a HUGE smile on MY face! *heart squish* And I LOVE your re-telling of the story within your blog - you have a wonderful way with words! Thanks to you and your girls for helping to spread the Dragon love - on the eve of his first birthday, too! I think we may just have to celebrate with blueberry pie! Dragon love & hugs, Jodi :)

    1. Wow! I am so flattered that you enjoyed it!!! (squealing like a school girl) YOU have a wonderful way with words! Thank you for working so hard to publish such a fantastic book and for the wonderful moments I share with my children while reading it! We can't wait for Good News Nelson! Really, thank you for taking the time to comment! Your kind words are the best pick-me-up an aspiring author could ever ask for!! Texas love & hugs, Isla :)

  2. This looks like one I will have to read to my class and A. Very cute!!

    1. They'll love it! Charlotte laughs through the whole book!

  3. Great pick! We recently purchased this book at my 2 year old son's school book fair. It has ignited his imagination! Now our 3-4 trips a week to our neighborhood beach are full of dragon adventures! The artwork is so engaging/captivating that I am able to read this book to my 2 year old and 5 month old sons at the same time.

    Pretty cool that the Author commented on your review (understatement)!

    1. I forget y'all have a beach over there! Perfect!!! Glad y'all like it too! And, YES, very cool!! :)