Dragons in a Bag

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Dragons in a Bag Book Poster Image
Exciting tale of New York kid's journey to magical world.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Dragons in a Bag is a tale of magic and fantasy, but main character Jaxon is really interested in geography, especially Africa, and the dragons come from Madagascar, so there's also quite a bit of intriguing detail about that part of the world. Also some of Jaxon's adventures involve time travel to prehistoric times, where he has to figure out which era he's in by what kind of dinosaurs are in the picture. Jaxon's mom is going to court to keep a creepy landlord from evicting them, and there's some detail about the process.

Positive Messages

There's a strong hero's journey theme of accepting a challenge and overcoming many difficulties in the course of your quest. Courage, knowledge, study, hard work, quick thinking, and persistence all matter a lot. So does a willingness to take people as they are and work with them..

Positive Role Models & Representations

With rare exceptions (like the evil landlord), all the characters in Dragons in a Bag are kindhearted and doing what they think is right. Nine-year-old Jaxon is going through a tough time but struggles to be brave and not let his mom down as the story begins. Adults compliment him on his politeness and intelligence. His friend Vik and his little sister unintentionally cause trouble out of misplaced kind-heartedness. His mom, offstage for most of the story, is stressed with grief for her late husband and fear of losing their home, but besides raising a great kid, she's a strong, steady force. Ma and the other magical characters are complex, nuanced, and don't always completely agree with each other, but they're a strong force for good.

Violence & Scariness

Jaxon's father has died recently, and now their creepy landlord is trying to make Jaxon and his mom leave, by any means necessary -- like cutting off the water and power. Jaxon and Ma face many perils trying to deliver the baby dragons to the magic world, including large, fierce dinosaurs.

Language

Occasional butt references.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Dragons in a Bag is the first book in a series by Zetta Elliott. It's an exciting, funny, positive tale involving Jaxon, a studious, polite young 9-year-old whose father has recently died, whose mother is headed to court to keep their creepy landlord from evicting them, and who therefore gets left for "just  one day" with a strange old lady his mother calls Ma -- who turns out to be a witch. She has a lot of interesting friends, mostly magical, and a task: Get three baby dragons, born in Madagascar, to the world of magic, because they won't thrive here. Jaxon and Ma face many perils trying, including large, fierce dinosaurs. Almost all the characters are African American (Jaxon's BFF and his little sister are Indian American, and one character is invisible), nuanced, relatable, and strong. This lively page-turner is great for anyone who likes believable, cheer-worthy heroes on a good adventure.

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What's the story?

DRAGONS IN A BAG is the tale of 9-year-old Jaxon, who fights back tears as his mom leaves him -- just for the day, she says -- with a cranky old lady she calls "Ma," but who isn't her mom. It's a dire time: Jaxon's father has died and the landlord's trying to throw the grieving family out of their home. His mom has to go to court, and Jaxon is trying not to make her life harder, so he makes the best of it. There's a mysterious box on Ma's table, covered with stamps from Madagascar, which, it turns out, contains baby dragons who need to be transported to the magic world. And, as it also turns out, it's all in a day's work for Ma. She's a witch. Where Jaxon fits in -- that's up to him.

Is it any good?

This exciting adventure is full of engaging characters and lots of imagination. Dragons in a Bag launches the story of 9-year-old Brooklyn boy Jaxon, who discovers that the magical world has a job for him, if he wants to take it on and can deal with a strange old lady who's very definitely not his grandma. Created by author Zetta Elliott, who wanted to write a magical tale for Black kids who don't see people who look like them in fantasy stories, it continues in Book 2, The Dragon Thief. But here's where it all starts:

"'Your mama really didn't tell you nothin' 'bout me?' Ma asks finally.

"'No, ma'am,' I say truthfully.

"Ma grunts. 'You got nice manners, I'll give you that,' she says. Then she sighs and leans heavily on her cane -- so heavily I worry it might snap in two.

"'What you need to know, Jax, is ... I'm a witch.'"

 

 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about stories about kids who are living normal lives in our world until suddenly the world of magic makes an appearance and changes their lives. How do you think Dragons in a Bag compares with other stories about this that you've read?

  • Do you know anyone who's had long-lost relatives turn up in their lives? What was the story? How did the reunion go?

  • Have you been to any African country, or do you know someone who has? What did you find most interesting? Which places appeal to you most? Would you like to spend more time there?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy and diversity

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