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The Tale of Custard the Dragon Paperback – April 1, 1998
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From Publishers Weekly
Custard cowers in fearAuntil a nasty pirate shows up and inspires his dragonly instincts. In PW's words, famed Nash's "wordplayful 1936 rhyme gets a fresh start with timeless illustrations by Munsinger." Ages 4-8.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
About the Author
Ogden Nash is considered one of the country's best-known writers of humorous poetry, admired for his clever rhymes and lyrical verse. He has written several books for children.
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*** SPOILER ALERT ***
The story: Custard is a very timid dragon who lives with a young girl, her dog, her cat, and her mouse. He is not fierce and is afraid of everything and his mates are always teasing him for it. Then one day, a pirate attacks the young girl. Her dog, cat and mouse all run away to save themselves. Custard, however, in a very startling turn of events, eats the pirate and saves his friend.
(1) Belinda and three other pets *say* that they're very brave. Custard the Dragon *says* that he'd rather live some place safe. Based on what they *say* about themselves, the four "brave" characters tease the one "cowardly" character.
(2) When a pirate breaks into the house, the four "brave" characters instantly turn tail and run away. Cowardly Custard, however, stands his ground during the attack and ends up eating the pirate.
(3) Once the danger is past, all the so-called brave characters come back and thank Custard.
(4) Ultimately, however -- and this is more like the real world than a fairy tale -- Belinda and the "brave" pets go back to their habit of saying that they're really brave, and Custard goes back to saying that he'd really rather live in a nice safe place.
This poem is an interesting bit of commentary on our own willful blindness to our faults, our narcissistic dependence on erroneous self-talk, and one of our stupider working definitions of bravery.
This book is an excellent opportunity for you to talk to your kids about the difference between what people *say* and how they behave. Who's really the brave character after all? Is it always safe to trust a person's self-description? Is there anything wrong with Custard preferring security to danger? If you were there, would you want to tease Custard, or to tell that self-deceived Belinda to put a sock in it? If you saw someone picking on another person on the playground just because they're different, then should you be ganging up with the Belindas of the world, or sticking up for the Custards?
If you're at all familiar with the parable of the two sons in the vineyard (see Matthew 21:31's "Which of the two did his father's will?" question), then you won't have any trouble figuring out the difference between Belinda's brave words and Custard's brave actions. This poem may be beyond the ken of a two year old, but it shouldn't have been so confusing for so many adult reviewers. Just repeat after me: "Actions speak louder than words," and "Do not believe everything you hear."