A new children's book co-created by Pleasanton author Linda Drattell chronicles the story of a young dragon who overcomes his fears and learns the power of friendship and self-acceptance.
Co-written by California State University East Bay professor Eve Marie Little, "Who Wants to be Friends With a Dragon?" was released in bookstores and online at the beginning of this year and features illustrations from Union City artist Marc Vicente.
The story follows a dragon who lives in a forest and watches children play each day. Out of fear that the children will reject him for his harsh outer appearance made of spikes and scales, the dragon never attempts to befriend them.
One day, a boy comes forward to the dragon and invites him to play with the other children. After attending the boy's birthday party and celebrating together, the dragon and the children learn to accept their differences and build friendships.
Drattell discussed the meaning of the book as well as the main writing inspirations with the Weekly in a recent email interview.
"The boy in the story looks past the dragon's differences, and in the process is rewarded with a rich friendship. The dragon, in turn, realizes that because of his differences he has much to offer others and is rewarded with friendship and respect by sharing the unique skills he possesses," Drattell said.
Drattell has had several pieces of work published as part of various poetry anthologies. Her first collection of poems, "Remember This Day", is set to be published as a chapter book this August.
Drattell explained that she met her "Who Wants to be Friends With a Dragon?" co-author while taking Spanish lessons.
"I have always had a love for languages and despite my becoming deaf, I very much wanted to learn Spanish. My tutor, Eve Little, would come to my house to teach me," Drattell said.
To help develop Drattell's Spanish literacy, the two would often review and discuss children's books in the language. One day Little suggested the two try their hand at writing a book themselves.
"We discussed writing about a dragon who had attributes like scales on his back, sharp nails and breathed fire -- things that were different. Then we discussed how the dragon would have gone about making friends with others who might be afraid of him," Drattell explained.
"We then thought about how the dragon would have felt about himself, being different, and that he might self-isolate because of how he was different from everyone else," she added.
Both co-authors both felt that the story was relatable due to having their own "differences". Drattell's was her experience becoming deaf as an adult and Little's was her experience being Mexican-American.
"We realized anyone who feels different for any reason will identify with the dragon in our story," Drattell said. "We wanted this to be a children's book because many children self-isolate when they feel different, whether they speak a different language, are of a different religion, are of a different race, and so on."
Drattell shared that her experience becoming deaf in her 30s and having to relearn many of her fundamental ways of life impacted her writing for the book.
"The dragon reflects me as a person being different from others and finding new friends. I've learned to self-advocate, improve coping skills, learned American Sign Language, and have profited from the richness of deaf culture," she said. "I consider the richness of our language and apply that language to quotidian experiences. What I find, mostly, is that I do not need to hear to convey deep emotions on a page."
Through collaboration on the book between the two co-authors and the illustrator, Drattell said it was an easy project to complete.
"We decided to forget applying Spanish to the book and focused on making the story complete with full character arcs," she said. "It was really a wonderful process. We each had our individual perspectives, given our different life experiences, and we enriched each other with our varying points of view. The culmination of this story has been most satisfying."
The authors and illustrator hope children can learn from the book and take away its main message of embracing differences and finding connections.
"As (young readers) enter that enriched age when they realize not all people are the same, they or someone else may be different in some way, we hope that they will find a way to overcome those differences and build a bridge of friendship," Drattell said.