Bob Graham: Ellie’s Dragon

Illustrated by the author

Published by Walker Books, Ltd, 2020

We all need to feel safe and secure. At different times in our lives we lean and rely on close relationships, beloved pets, our favourite food, faith in things unseen and personal belongings to keep us steady and anchored amidst the uncertainties of life. This need can start almost from the moment we are born. Dummies, blankets, soft toys, even our own thumbs can provide much needed comfort.

Sometimes we can even invent an imaginary friend to be with us. In this story, young Ellie finds a newborn dragon on top of a discarded egg carton. It is made up of all the colours of the rainbow and so tiny, the dragon baby fits in the palm of her small hand. Ellie names him Scratch.

The grown-ups cannot see Scratch, but when Ellie goes to kindergarten, some of her friends can see him. As Ellie grows, so does Scratch. When Ellie is about 10 years old, things start to change. Mobile phones, bedroom dancing and skate boarding fill Ellie’s days and Scratch loses some of his substance, fading away more and more, until he is barely noticeable. But one day, Scratch finds himself on the street and noticed by little Sam. Scratch is just what little Sam needs:

‘A fully grown, house-trained, affectionate dragon, just looking for a new home.”

This story reminded me so much of Puff the Magic Dragon by Peter Yarrow, based on the poem by Leonard Lipton (who was only 19 when he wrote it!) and memorably sung by Peter, Paul and Mary. Puff the Magic Dragon is all about Jackie Paper and his imaginary friend Puff. If you can believe Wikipedia, it seems that the original poem had an extra stanza where Puff did find another friend after Jackie Paper grew up…I hope so, it always made me sad to think that Puff was forever friendless and alone inside that cave on Honalee!

Bob Graham’s illustrations for Ellie’s Dragon are gorgeous, full of tiny details about the ordinary trappings of life; shopping aisles, trolleys, doll houses, streets and pavements, flying pigeons, lamplights, bus stops and sneakers. All this blending with the insightful recording of all the wonderful things that we can do together as families and with friends.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years old and below I have included some suggestions about other titles which explore the idea of imaginary friends:

The Girl with the Parrot
on her Head by
Daisy Hirst
Imaginary Fred by
Eoin Colfer
Illustrated by
Oliver Jeffers
Leon and Bob by
Simon James
Lenny and Lucy by
Philip C. Stead
Illustrated by
Erin E. Stead
Jessica by
Kevin Henkes
Lottie and Walter by
Anna Walker
The Snow Lion by
Jim Helmore
Illustrated by
Richard Jones