When I was a kid, I loved dragons. I mean, I still love dragons, but I especially loved them as a kid—there was a time when I literally picked all my reading material based on the numbers of dragons they had. I devoured Tamora Pierce’s Immortals quartet, where main character Daine is raising a dragon called Kitten, Patricia Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles, where the princess volunteers to be a dragon’s “captive” princess so that she can have fun adventures—fuck, I even read Dragonriders of Pern when I was in the sixth grade. (My librarian apparently didn’t see anything wrong with giving that series to a girl just barely in middle school). But before reading Dragonriders of Pern, another of my favorite dragon books was Bruce Coville’s 1992 children’s novel Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher.
Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher was one of a series of books revolving around a mysterious magic store, but since this is the only one of the series that focuses on dragons, it’s, perhaps unsurprisingly, the only one I remember. Our protagonist, Jeremy Thatcher, runs into a magic store—Elives’ Magic Supplies—while being chased by bullies and a girl who wants to kiss him. (Jeremy’s also in the sixth grade—pretty realistic, as girls were terrifying to me too at that age.) Once safely inside, he finds a weird blue marble-like thing which the shopkeeper lets him have for a quarter. When Jeremy takes it home, however, he discovers that it’s not a marble—it’s a dragon’s egg.
Jeremy, who lives on a farm, sets out to hatch it immediately. He’s thrilled at the idea of having a dragon for a pet, but soon realizes that raising a dragon while trying to be a normal kid in school at the same time is not all fun and games. Eventually, he has to let the dragon return to its parents. This is the novel’s true strength: although Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher is a short book, it really focuses on Jeremy growing up. He starts out as a young, immature boy who wants to be an artist, but grows into a young man who knows how to take responsibility for his own actions.
I could easily read a whole series set around the dragon hatchers and the dragon world, and am eagerly awaiting the day Bruce Coville sees this as a money-making opportunity. Though it’s a short book, all the worldbuilding makes sense. All the dragon legends in our world are real—dragons used to live in this world, but after there started to be a few too many dragon slayers and dragon slayer wannabees, a wizard opened a portal to another world in which the dragons could live safely. However, dragon eggs can only hatch under the light of the Earth’s moon. So the dragons send their eggs back to our world for someone like Jeremy to hatch them. Dragons communicate via colors, pictures, and emotions, and Jeremy’s dragon, Tiamat, picked Jeremy to hatch her because she “liked the colors in his head”. Jeremy, an aspiring artist himself, learns a lot about communicating through drawings while he’s looking after Tiamat. Given all this, it’s really amusing to me that Christopher Paolini says The Inheritance Cycle was inspired by this book—I haven’t analyzed the series as thoroughly as Ace has, but Tiamat manages to be a more realistic and relatable baby dragon in 148 pages than Saphira does across four whole books.
Beyond the magic, Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher also gives us some fascinating female characters. Mary Lou Hutton, the girl that Jeremy was so afraid of at the beginning of the novel, actually ends up being pretty cool. She loves fantasy books, just like Jeremy, and perhaps because of her imagination, is the only other person who can see Tiamat. The librarian who gives Jeremy a secret book about raising dragons, Miss Priest, turns out to have been a dragon hatcher herself. She seems to know more about dragons that the mysterious shopkeeper, talks Jeremy through letting Tiamat go, and hints at how he might communicate with her once she’s gone. Mary Lou becomes a friend, not a love interest; Miss Priest is interesting in her own right, not just as Jeremy’s source of dragon information.
If you haven’t read Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher already, you should totally read this book! Like many other dragon stories, it’ll make you long desperately for a dragon. Also, it’s very short! That just means you can cry over it quicker.