Saint George and the Dragon is a beautiful, detailed, uniquely literary children's book. It's adapted from Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene, retold in plain language by Margaret Hodges, and illustrated in a colorful medieval style by Trina Schart Hyman.
There's no doubt that Trina Schart Hyman's illustrations deserved to win the 1985 Caldecott medal. Her use of color and the detailed medieval borders could stand on their own, apart from the story. The book is elegant, detailed, and a bit gory in the appropriate dragon-slaying places.
There's one small problem. It's too long.
Yes, the story is told in plain language. But it's still fairly wordy for a picture book as heavily illustrated as this one. The sheer volume of words per page and the detail of description is, at times, simply too much. Hodges attempts to be faithful to the original. In doing so she sometimes includes details unnecessary to this book. The book, as an independent work, tends to suffer. On the other hand, it may be a gateway to future enjoyment of Spenser's work.
Of course, all this is not to say that it can't be enjoyed by anyone with a sufficient attention span. Children have been entertained by this lovely picture book for many years (in abridged and unabridged form.) Trina Schart Hyman's illustrations do justice to the classic story of Una and her Redcrosse knight. There are timeless themes of courage and perseverance in here for anyone willing to find them.
Review by Lauren Shearer
Lauren Shearer writes words for fun and profit. She also makes films, but everyone knows you can't make a profit doing that. Her other hobby is consistently volunteering way too much of her time. You can read more of her reviews here
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