As I began to write this story I realized that I needed to mold my characters so that their strengths and weakness could play off of each other. The Littlest Dragon was made so small so that he would look insignificant and inept at handling difficulties of life but it is because he is so small that this apparent weakness becomes his strength. His small size would also create a coziness that would appeal to the readers, especially young girls.
I wanted to keep the story in line with the Chinese legend that Leizu discovered silk but besides changing her history from being the wife of the Yellow emperor to the daughter of the emperor, with whom young readers can identify, I wanted her to come from a very poor kingdom. It is because of this poverty that the Princess is faced with a crisis in the middle of the story that she must overcome.
The underlying message of this story is that you don’t have to have magical abilities, super human talents or extreme wealth to be successful. Anyone can become successful and achieve their dreams. A goal, persistence and action are some of the most important keys to achieve success.
Princess Leizu had a humble childhood. Her mornings were spent with her aunt who ran the royal weaving mill that had previously been managed by her husband who is now deceased. Afternoons were spent studying in the garden where she was tutored by this aunt. These morning and afternoon experiences shaped her character; she is hardworking, diligent and humble.
I have the utmost respect for Eoin Colfer, the author of the very successful series of children books Artemis Fowl. In these books the precocious and very intelligent young boy, Artemis Fowl II, attempts to regain his family’s fortune by researching clues on the Internet. He is a twelve-year-old criminal mastermind who helped in his quest by Domovoi Butler a huge Eurasian manservant bodyguard. I can see why this story and Artemis would entrance many young boys because they adore the antics of this preteen James Bond.
Sadly the very few preteens have the skills and aptitudes of a character like Artemis Fowl and when they are confronted with the normal issues and problems when growing up they need direction and good advise. It was my goal to create a character that was normal, perhaps even challenged in some areas to serve as an example to school age kids of how deal with adversity.
The research that dealt with Chinese dragon mythology revealed that these beneficial dragons could vary in size from as small as a chipmunk to as large as a school bus. Because our society usually makes such a big thing about the importance of being big I choose to have my young hero be the smallest that had ever been born. I also felt that if his character was based on goodness and perseverance his actions could serve as a role model for the youth of today. His main strength was that “He was able to stay focused on a task or problem for a long time and eventually always found a solution.” Because he wasn’t gifted and had to work hard to learn a lesson he developed a strong self-discipline.
Self-discipline is one of Napoleon Hill’s Great Riches of Life and usually it is the ninth one listed but I feel that it is one of the most important. Even though we have the intelligence and skills to achieve we can fail if we never get started achieving our goals. Whether it is the objective of being physically fit, at peace with our relatives or giving attention to the other twelve riches of life self-discipline is needed to attain that goal.
Growing up in the second half of the Twenth Century I was lucky to spend some of the spare time watching animated works from the golden age of cartoons. Walt Disney Studio’s Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck were at first my favorites but my appreciation to cartoons characters soon spread to those from Warner Brothers. The antics of Porky Pig were always amusing and I was especially fond of the clowning around of Bugs Bunny.
Since I grew up in the city of Burbank where these two studios were located I felt especially proud of their work. In time my sensibilities grew to appreciate the work of other animators especially the work of Walter Lantz. The Lantz studios were best known for Woody Woodpecker who I always enjoyed watching but in time I found that the characters Andy Panda and Chilly Willy, who seemed less polished, were therefore more endearing to me.
It was to my surprise that when The Littlest Dragon finally appeared on my drawing board he had a look that stylistic was similar to the characters from the Lantz studio. He had that cute innocent look of Andy Panda, much like a ten-year-old boy with lots of energy mixed with a naïve curiosity. The interesting thing was that I hadn’t thought of Lantz’s work or any cartoon characters until I saw the likeness in my drawing.
The Littlest Dragon enters the story at the end of chapter one and the fact that he is so small is one of the most important aspects of this work. It seems so often in our world that size matters. The big and important people get all the attention but that’s not the way it should be.
I wanted to create a creature that looked vulnerable and maybe even helpless to serve as a model of who we can be, of what we can over come regardless of how small or insignificant we are perceived. I wanted to show that we don’t need special powers to overcome difficulties that being normal is okay and if we focus on the positive and have persistence we can succeed.
I have the utmost respect for other children’s book authors. The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling is fantastic and what a success story. The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan has made him the #1 New York Times bestselling author. Kids and adults love these works but in the end I wanted to produce a children’s story that could not only entertain but could have long lasting effects. A story where the hero of the story didn’t have to be a wizard like Harry Potter or like Percy Jackson, be the son of Poseidon an Olympic God.
I’ve always been intrigued with drawings and paintings of historic Chinese dragons. One of the things that I found curious was that on occasion the dragon would hold a sphere shaped object in their front claws. Research revealed that most scholars believed this object was the dragon’s egg out of which their offspring would emerge.
I decided to begin my story within the dragon community that was high in the mountains amid the waterfalls and cascades. The story starts on one day in spring that the dragons designated as the birthing day. This community is very close knit; they love merriment and festivity especially the day when all the baby dragon eggs hatch.
The celebration procession is lead from cave to cave by the Grand Wizar, who is a very friendly, out going dragon who greets new dragon parents with joy and enthusiasm. He is the most flamboyant of the dragons in this community but he also has a reverent side, in a sense he is a celebration priest.
Once the group enters each “cave the Grand Wizar would carefully chant the egg cracking mantra, giving thanks to the universal life force, the goodness in nature, and for each new addition to the dragon community. At the end of the chant, he would take the ceremonial scepter and strike the egg, cracking it open. Parents and neighbors alike would marvel at the birth of each new baby dragon.”
Chinese dragons are very different than their counter parts that plagued European towns and cities. Unlike the tales of Saint George and the Dragon brought back to Europe by the returning Crusaders or modern tales by authors like J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Chinese dragons did not torture or eat humans.
Chinese dragons were the foundation of Chinese civilization. They looked after the people that lived in the cities and countryside near the dragon communities. The dragons invented oriental writing, taught the people how to write. They were usually associated with water and love to swim in the lakes and oceans. In the early days, dragons were the ones who chose the course of streams and rivers; their long curved bodies were perfect for digging the path of the riverbeds.
Chinese dragons could be of a variety of sizes from as small as a chipmunk to as large as a school bus. They were classified into groups depending on how many claws they had on their hands and feet. Three clawed dragons were assigned to watch over and help the common people in the villages and towns. Four clawed dragons watched over the town’s administrators and helped them organized rules and responsibilities of the ruling council. Five clawed dragons were very rare but they were very powerful and fierce; they only looked after the Emperor and his family.
Chinese dragons watched over the people and helped them maintain order, law, and justice. The dragons were there to serve and protect and ensure a peaceful society.
Reflecting at the manner in which this story has evolved, I am amazed at how it has been transformed from its original concept. It often seems that some, perhaps all, creative projects must be allowed enough freedom to take their own direction; indeed this one has a mind of its own.
My story arose out of Chinese legend. Chinese legend holds that, in the 27th century BC, Empress Leizu, wife of the Yellow Emperor, was asked by her husband to find out why the leaves of mulberry trees in the Palace grove were thinning. She discovered on inspection that caterpillars were nesting in the trees and eating the leaves. She brought one of the cocoons with her while she was about to have her afternoon tea. At one point, she dropped the cocoon into her warm tea. Legend has it that the adhesive that held the cocoon together was softened by the warm tea and began to unravel. Her inspection of the thread revealed its unique strength and thin construction.
Up until the 27th century BC, the weaving industry had to rely on animal and plant sources to make thread in the construction of fabric. This new discovery was heralded as the beginning of the silk industry.
I decided to use Leizu’s name but changed her family background to create a younger character with whom young readers can identify. In my story, she is the daughter of the Emperor. Her mother dies at childbirth and her Aunt Wu raises her. Aunt Wu gives her care and love. Even though she is the daughter of the Emperor, Leizu is not afforded a luxurious life since the kingdom is very poor.
By way of background, as a lecturer for the J. Paul Getty Foundation, I had written the initial short story version of the current story as part of my presentation for a hypothetical 4th grade class during a summer in-service for elementary teachers organized by the J. Paul Getty Foundation. In the Foundation’s approach to art education, called Discipline Based Art Education (DBAE), all of educational artistic components are addressed, not just art production. My role was to demonstrate how you could teach art history to 4th graders. My lecture discussed a print of a Chinese Dragon.
My research for the lecture had provided a great amount of information. Instead of reciting a laundry list of dragon characteristics, I developed a short story that incorporated these attributes. Thus, The Littlest Dragon and the Princess was born. Recently, having stopped teaching to focus on my art and writing, I returned to the story, creating a children’s middle reader chapter book with illustrations. I made a number of changes to the initial story, including adding a new central character, an old Dragon Sage, who counsels the littlest dragon when he has social problems at dragon school.