Handbook for Dragon Slayers

Common Sense Media says

Exciting medieval adventure with brave teens and dragons.





What parents need to know

Educational value

Leaving aside the fantasy elements of magical creatures, Handbook for Dragon Slayers offers startlingly deep insight into the issues of the Middle Ages -- practical (the lack of indoor plumbing), institutional (the mutual responsibilities of lords and vassals in the feudal system), and cultural (Mathilda's admiration for 6th century philosopher Boethius). Kids will pick up French and German words here and there, as well as allusions to Charlemagne, Roland, and other intriguing historic figures.

Positive messages

Messages about kindness, friendship, loyalty, courage, and living up to your responsibilities even when it's hard, and not being afraid to question your assumptions and change your mind as new experiences give you new insights.

Positive role models

Mathilda, Judith, and Parz are appealing, sometimes flawed humans doing their best, and then doing better when they have learned more. Mathilda's strict mother, absent for most of the story because she's in prison, is a strong influence, as is her late father, who died on a Crusade. Other adult characters, including some she initially dislikes, prove their worth and steadfastness.

Violence & scariness

A knight who's murdered seven brides wants to make Mathilda his eighth victim. Faceless supernatural beings terrorize the locals. Mathilda's wicked cousin imprisons her and her mother. A knight loyal to Mathilda is subjected to trial by ordeal, plunging his hand into boiling water; this is mentioned after the fact. On the other hand, a series of events makes the young adventurers realize that it's better to befriend dragons than slay them.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that  Handbook for Dragon Slayers is a fast-moving, exciting tale set in the Middle Ages. It includes some scary stuff -- the teens who are the main characters face dangers from murderous knights to supernatural apparitions. It also offers appealing characters who learn and grow as events unfold, as well as their loyal friends, and lots of intriguing bits about historical figures and their stories that will make many kids want to learn more. Many tween girls, in particular, will love the magical horses; thoughtful kids will also recognize issues that are still current today, such as people's casual cruelty to those who are "different."

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What's the story?

In medieval Germany, 13-year-old princess Mathilda, born with a deformed foot that causes her subjects to fear and mock her, wishes for nothing more than to go off to a quiet cloister where she can copy manuscripts -- her great skill and passion -- in peace. Fate has other ideas, though, as her wicked cousin who's bent on seizing the kingdom imprisons first her mother and then Mathilda herself. Thanks to her resourceful servant Judith and her friend Parzival, a squire-in-training to a neighboring knight and a would-be dragon slayer, she escapes; the three friends are soon caught up in adventures involving ghostly hunters, magic horses, and quite a few dragons -- not to mention an evil knight who wants to kill Mathilda.

Is it any good?


HANDBOOK FOR DRAGON SLAYERS hits the trifecta: an exciting plot with appealing characters, including strong girl protagonists; engaging presentation of the medieval period that will make many young readers want to learn more about the history and legends; and magical horses sure to delight many a tween girl. Along the way, it offers insights into the heavy responsibilities of even a 13-year-old princess, the pain caused by thoughtless meanness, and the power of love and kindness.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about why stories about dragons have been so popular for many centuries. How does this one compare to others you've read?

  • How is Mathilda's life as a princess not exactly the fairy-tale experience you might expect? How is she different from other princesses in stories you've read?

  • What do you know about the period in which this story takes place? How are the characters' lives different from what they would be today?

Book details

Author:Merrie Haskell
Topics:Magic and fantasy, Princesses and fairies, Adventures, Friendship, Great girl role models, History, Horses and farm animals, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publication date:May 28, 2013
Number of pages:336
Publisher's recommended age(s):8 - 12
Available on:Hardback, iBooks, Kindle, Nook

This review of Handbook for Dragon Slayers was written by

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  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Adult Written byTeresaJ 1 March 20, 2015

Best book ever

What other families should know
Great messages


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