On a sunny Saturday afternoon, last September 20th, in a beautiful and evocative room of a castle in Masnago, I found myself reading The knight and the dragon, by Tomie de Paola to children who had come, presumably, to listen to a story about fighting. But, what happens when a sheepish knight and a not-so-fierce dragon fight for the very first time? It won't be an ordinary battle since the knight has to go to the castle library to learn about dragon-fighting and the dragon must dig through his ancestor's things to find out how to fight a knight!
Once they have confirmed their cultural and social suspicions – that they are expected and supposed to fight each other – the knight and the dragon both start preparing themselves for their presumed battle but they are not able to accomplish their mission. The fight starts and it's a mess! So, the knight is given a book about cooking and the dragon is given a book about barbeque. Rather than fighting, the knight and the dragon decide to use their skills to do something more productive: they open a barbeque restaurant together! Although children just know deep down in their collective unconscious that knights and dragons don't get along, they accept this cute ending which brings a powerful message about conflict resolution hiding beneath its surface.
Before reading the story with the children, I decided to pre-teach some the words: I brought a big trunk containing a sword, a shield, a helmet and other useful realia to make my audience feel comfortable and secure. The reading was actually an active reading, I involved the children with questions and made them participate to the "fight" between two puppets representing the knight and the dragon.
After the reading the children were asked to create a finger-dragon, using cardboard, colours and above all their imagination. Each child left the castle with his own dragon looking for his knight to fight.