This summer, I stumbled across John Ronald’s Dragons: The Story of J.R.R. Tolkien by Caroline McAlister, and I immediately knew I wanted to share it with my students. This beautifully illustrated book (illustrator Eliza Wheeler), tells the story of a young Tolkien growing up in Sarehole, England, in the early 1900s. He dreamt of dragons rising into the cold sky, and his imagination ran wild with invented languages and adventures. As they do for so many of us, the responsibilities of adulthood later overshadowed the creatures of his imagination. He fought in World War I, fell in love, started a family, and became a professor. One day, as he was grading papers, John was struck by an idea for a creature that is familiar to all now. He jotted down a line about a hobbit.
After I shared the story of Tolkien’s inspiration, I asked my students to create their own creature, as he did with the hobbit. They dove right in, and before I knew it, the classroom was abuzz with turtle-people, anthropomorphic germs, and teddy bears trained in martial arts. I walked around the room listening in as my fourth graders crafted conflicts and resolutions. They worked together to edit and revise, and they created art projects to accompany their stories. The final product of this lesson was an array of adventures, each centering on a creature born in a student’s imagination, just as Frodo was created long ago by Professor Tolkien. I adore these lively, original creations, and I hope you will too. Read sample stories here