When I first saw the cover of this book, I was intrigued by the subject and attracted by the illustration, which I soon discovered was by Pauline Baynes, who also did many small illustrations throughout. Baynes was already a favorite for her illustrations for the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis, and books by J.R.R. Tolkien (she was friends with them, as was the author, apparently) and she did a wonderful map of Middle Earth that used to hang on my wall. The book itself was entertaining, though perhaps lightweight.
Graeme lives with his sister Petronella and his parents in a home in suburban England, probably near London. His friend Simon lives next door, and they sometimes play together. Graeme is fond of making bonfires, and in a way that would probably not be allowed in a children’s book today, he loves to set fires of any kind. One day while preparing a bonfire at the back of his garden, he finds a baby dragon, who is happy to help set the fire alight with his breath. The dragon has an appealing personality, he’s vain, and crafty, and at times disobedient, getting Graeme and Simon in trouble until they learn how to control him with the help of a magic umbrella they find that can change his size. Each chapter is an amusing story, and many were originally told by the author on the BBC radio program “Children’s Hour.” Logic is set aside, but humor and cleverness abound. Social satire is also present in some stories.
The charming illustrations go a long way toward making this a fun read, and some made me laugh, like the ones on this page. Just now, I read the Wikipedia entry on Mitchison, which is extensive and surprising. I would never have expected such a daring and adventurous author to be behind these essentially gentle tales. I recommend the book if you can find it.