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Catherine Little

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Dragon takes centre stage in Catherine Little’s Dragon’s Dilemma

Dragon’s Dilemma, a companion to Catherine Little’s 2022 picture book debut Twelve in a Race, brings readers the zodiac story from Dragon’s perspective. Published by Plumleaf Press (in time for the Lunar New Year and the Year of the Dragon, which begins on February 10), the book reunites Little with illustrator Sae Kimura. 

Little spoke with Q&Q about the inspiration behind Dragon’s Dilemma, the importance of dragons in Chinese culture, and what she hopes readers will take away from the story.

What inspired Dragon’s Dilemma?
After Twelve in a Race was published in 2022, I approached Plumleaf Press about creating a book for the Year of the Dragon. Both publisher Maggie Goh and illustrator Sae Kimura were enthusiastic, so we decided to dive in. Everyone loves the zodiac story of The Great Race, but the dragon is undoubtedly the most popular animal. 

At one point in the story, Dragon breaks the fourth wall. Why was it so important to include the reader in this way?
Dragon is confident of victory, so instead of heading straight for the finish line, he makes decisions that ultimately affect his standing in the race. By breaking the fourth wall, I invite the reader to think about and comment on Dragon’s decision-making. When I share Dragon’s Dilemma with children, they yell out at various points in the story, “It’s okay you didn’t win!” and “You did the right thing.” It has been fun to present Dragon’s point of view and learn what children think about his decisions.

Illustration: Sae Kimura

Can you speak about the importance of dragons in Chinese culture?
Dragons represent many good things in Chinese culture, including health, strength, and luck. In the past, the dragon was an imperial symbol that only the emperor and high officials could use. Now, it is a popular motif and remains the most popular zodiac sign. In some countries, there are baby booms every Year of the Dragon.

What are the differences between Chinese and Western dragons?
They differ physically and in character. Chinese dragons are often wingless but still fly. They have parts that resemble snakes, carp, eagles, tigers, as well as other animals. Western dragons are often depicted as fierce creatures who hoard treasure, burn down villages, and kidnap hapless victims. They are feared. Chinese dragons are often benevolent. They use their ability to control water and weather for good. 

What do you hope readers take away from Dragon’s Dilemma?
I hope readers will enjoy Dragon’s Dilemma all year round. It’s especially good at Lunar New Year because that’s when the zodiac symbol changes from one animal to the next. However, stories like Twelve in a Race and Dragon’s Dilemma are a great way to weave culturally important stories into the wider study of myth and folk tale. They also present an opportunity to discuss character traits. I hope parents and teachers will use these stories to help children think about varying perspectives. 

What are you working on now?
I wrote a story inspired by a visit Lucy Maud Montgomery made to Toronto in 1921. It’s titled Anne of the Library-on-the-Hill. Publication will coincide with Montgomery’s 150th birthday celebrations on Nov. 30, 2024. My publisher is an ardent Montgomery fan, and we can’t wait to share more about the title.

This interview has been edited and condensed.