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  • Putting Books to Work

Putting Books to Work: Ken Baker's OLD MACDONALD HAD A DRAGON

by Kathy Prater
May 23, 2013
OLD MACDONALD HAD A DRAGON (Amazon Children’s Publishing, 2012)
Written by Ken Baker and illustrated by Christopher Santoro
Pre-K through Grade 4


The end of the year is here. Spirits are running high, and patience is running low. Capture the imagination of your students with a new twist on an old favorite!

OLD MACDONALD HAD A DRAGON is a humorous rewrite of the traditional song. Baker’s new twist on the words and Santoro’s comical illustrations will be sure to capture the attention and imagination of students. This version begins with a singing farmer who decides he wants to keep a dragon on the farm. The cow objects, using a play on words—“I’ve got a beef with you”—which results in an argument between the cow and farmer. The cow threatens to move, and the matter is settled in an unimaginable way: the dragon swallows up the cow! The argument between the farmer and cow and conversation between the farmer and the dragon are full of idioms related to the cow.

The farmer begins to sing again and is interrupted by a pig on a “hog” (motorcycle), and the scene repeats itself with idioms, comical illustrations and the pig being devoured in one gulp. The farmer then argues with a ram who threatens to withhold wool until the dragon is gone. The result of this argument is one fat and sassy dragon and one disappearing sheep. However, the farmer has second thoughts about this type of dragon dinner. He realizes he may need those wooly socks come winter.

The farmer begins his tune and sings about the farm having a dog. The dog, who has witnessed all the other arguments, protests being added into the song. The dragon can be seen behind the dog peeking at the argument with one eye open. Before the farmer gets to the chorus, the dog is dragon feed as well. This angers the farmer and satisfies the dragon who lies down to take a nap. The farmer has other ideas though. He marches across the yard and demands the dog back while kicking the dragon in the nose. Instead of arguing or responding to the farmer, the dragon does the only thing possible. He swallows up the farmer as well. The illustrations on the next page are similar to the Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly with the farmer scratching his head trying to figure out what to do now.

The dragon is seen with music coming out from inside his belly as all the animals join the farmer in singing the original song. This so upsets the dragon’s stomach that he belches loudly, shooting all the animals out into a puddle of slime. The dragon, with a terrible stomach ache, flies away from the farm. Old MacDonald raises his guitar and begins the song again with the animals each adding their name and sound.

Cross-curricular connections: Science, Art, Math, English

Ideas for Classroom Use:

Making Old Things New

The purpose of this activity is to expand the imagination and awareness of stories by retelling a favorite. Students can use the same format as OLD MACDONALD HAD A DRAGON, or can choose another familiar song to rewrite.

Have students listen to the story in a large group. Discuss how the story is different from the original song. Have students determine if having a dragon on a farm is a good idea or not and justify their answers with reasoning. Brainstorm as a class some other animals that might not do so well on Old MacDonald’s farm. Have children illustrate their choice of animal and what would happen between the original farm animals, the farmer, and the new animal.

If students choose another familiar song to rewrite, have them make similar illustrations and text that shows a comical side of rewriting well-known texts. Being able to manipulate well-known text is an invaluable tool in learning to read well. This skill helps students to move beyond the text and assimilate it into new ideas.

Area of a Dragon’s Belly

The purpose of this activity is to expand the imagination as well as strengthen math skills. For older students, measurements can be given and the students can work in small groups or independently.

After reading the story, ask students about how big a dragon would be in relation to the other animals. Give students problems to work, such as “If the dragon’s belly had an area of 125 square feet, which of these creatures could fit inside together?”

For younger children, the activity should be completed in large or small groups with teacher support. With these students, practice estimating which creatures will fit inside a certain area. Provide manipulatives for the younger students to check their guesses.

Dragon Habitats

The purpose of this activity is to build an appropriate habitat for a dragon. Since the dragon did not get along with the farm animals, where could he live comfortably? Have students listen to the story with the purpose of determining problems the dragon had living on the farm. Have students brainstorm other the places the dragon could live. If he lived in a circus, what problems would he have? a zoo? a park? etc.

Have students design the “perfect” habitat for a dragon. Be sure to include the four essentials for an animal to survive. Younger students can draw a picture of their habitat and older students can create a diorama.

Additional Resources and Activities:

Ken Baker Books
Ken Baker’s website has multiple resources to support his books. The site includes lesson plans, links for parents, links for librarians, and links for writers. A section of videos showcasing the books is also available if a peek at the illustrations is wanted before ordering the book. Baker also has included a link to his blog about thoughts on reading and writing.

Math is Fun: Area
This website provides an easy to use list of formulas for calculating area of different shapes. The students can use these formulas to calculate the area of the dragon’s stomach, as well as that of the other animals (perhaps a rectangle for a cow, a square for the dog, etc.). They can then see which animals the dragon could eat without upsetting his stomach.

Nature Works: Habitat
This website provides a short video about why living things need habitats and the resources a habitat provides. The video discusses natural habitats, artificial habitats, ways to improve habitats for animals, and ways habitats have been destroyed. The video provides an easy to understand introduction to habitats be showing real word experiences.

Kathy Prater is a Reading Specialist who works with students with dyslexia, an Adjunct Professor at Mississippi University for Women in Columbus, Mississippi, and a full time pre-kindergarten teacher at Starkville Academy in Starkville, Mississippi. Her passions include reading, writing, tending her flock of 15 chickens, and helping students at all levels to find motivation for lifelong reading and learning. She believes that every child can become a successful reader if given the right tools and encouragement.

© 2013 Kathy Prater. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.
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