Puff the Magic Dragon

Posted by on Mar 27, 2013 in body image, Book Nook, guest post | 2 comments

There are apparently two camps when it comes to Peter, Paul and Mary’s 1963 folk song “Puff the Magic Dragon”: those who find it a sentimental journey back to their most innocent moments of childhood, and those who maintain that the song has always been a veiled musical ode to marijuana and is therefore not child-appropriate.

Enjoyment of the storybook version, released in time for the original recording’s 50th anniversary, hinges partly on those preconceived views of the song. (Though I’d heard the song countless times growing up, I had managed to avoid developing strong feelings about it either way.)

More important, though, is one’s comfort with either unmelodiously reading aloud words that are clearly meant to be sung, or bellowing the folk song for what feels like an dragon’s lifetime. Incidentally, the book advises us, dragons are immortal.

“Written” by Peter Yarrow and Leonard Lipton, the late ’50s Cornell University student whose poem formed the basis of the song, the book consists of the just song’s lyrics.
There’s no embellishment beyond that.
Want to know more about Puff’s relationship with little Jackie Paper (yes, that’s really the kid’s name), aside from their mutual penchant for frolicking in the autumn mist in a land called Honalee? Me, too, but apparently I’ll have to invent those stories myself.
I tested out the board-book version on my 10-month-old, Vivian, who has developed a strong affection for books, mostly gnawing them and flinging them off her bookshelf into a great pile.
The highlights of our impressions:
• Ooh, pretty!: We loved the gorgeous illustrations by painter Eric Puybaret. Puff sure looks like a sweet friend to have. Not at all like a “Reefer Madness” dopefiend, mind you.
• Mmm, delicious! The board book is the perfect size and durability for an infant to hold, throw, chew, pull at, and dampen with teething drool.
• Um, is that the whole story?: It seems like 70 percent of this book is chorus. By the time it rolled around the third time or so, I was tempted to start singing, “We established these facts already, la la la la laaaaa!”
• Oops! Where’s my attention span?! Little Vivi grew awfully squirmy on Mommy’s lap
• Ohhh, where’d my voice go?: I sing constantly to my bambina, but something about vocalizing this “book” left my me temporarily sounding like a cigarette-ravaged celebutante. It’s long, I tell you. The hardcover editions come with a CD, which I think would help to preserve weary parents’ larynxes.
Bottom line: With all apologies to Peter (not to mention Paul, Mary and Leonard), this song just doesn’t quite work as a book.
– Review by Katie Doherty
Vivi isn't sure what to think of the book.

Vivi isn’t sure what to think of the book.


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  1. katytweety

    I would love to get the book with the CD with it. Would bring back lots of memories for me. Since I’m soon to be 65.

    • Kristin

      I never knew about the second one. To me the song is kind of depressing, especially at the end. Dusty sings “the dragon song” to Kahlan EVERY night. She loves it, and always asks what happened to Jackie Paper. Dusty says, “He went to work.”

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