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The Book Nook

Le Coin Lecture

Curl up and grab one of these books to help you navigate the work that's ahead.

This list is meant to help, challenge, and encourage discussions around DEI, Anti-Racism and Emerging Leadership practices. 

October 1, 2023

When women were dragons - Kelly Barnhill.png


When Women Were Dragons

By: Markey Battle

What's this about?

On the day of the Mass Dragoning in 1955, hundreds of mothers, co-workers, daughters, and wives neglected their duties, shrugged off their aprons, laid their heels aside, and took to the skies as fearsome winged beasts. That was the day when women stopped accepting what society told them to do and finally embraced their inner and outer dragons. 


The aftermath of the Mass Dragoning was simple: all abusive and manipulative male bosses, all cruel husbands, and all sleazy men were devoured, scorched, and done for. Meanwhile, no children or babies were harmed. The women were notably absent from the scene, though astute reporters and journalists would note after the fact that several sidewalks were lined with neatly folded pantsuits and dresses. 


One of those women-turned-dragons was Alex Green’s Aunt Marla. Or at least, it used to be Aunt Marla. No one in Alex’s life will tell her what caused the Mass Dragoning of 1955. After that day, Alex’s mother came home with Bea, her beloved cousin, and claimed that Bea had always been her sister. Every time Alex mentions Aunt Marla, her mother refuses to acknowledge her existence. 

When Women Were Dragons is an excellent feminist story about embracing your inner dragon, stepping into your power, and taking the blinders off of your eyes to see the impact you can and should have on the world.

About The Author

When Women Were Dragons is Kelly Barnhill’s first adult fiction book. Kelly Barnhill has won myriad literary awards, including but not limited to the Newbery Medal (2017), the World Fantasy Award, the Parents Choice Gold Award, the Texas Library Association Bluebonnet, and the Charlotte Huck Honor. The majority of her writing centers around fantasy, but she knew she could go deeper with themes and metaphors in her adult book.


Feminism, Fantasy, Self-exploration, Truth, Corruption, Morality, Identity, Justice, Man vs. Society.

What We Liked

Very few books effortlessly weave fantasy, feminism, and social justice together, but When Women Were Dragons accomplishes just that. The book is not only enjoyable and other-worldly, it makes readers question their society by presenting them with an alternate one. This book is perfect for fantasy lovers and feminists alike.


What we remember: The childlike innocence through which Alex saw the world was simultaneously relatable and heartbreaking. Barnhill perfectly captures the emotions of a young girl who wants to please her family, especially her mother, while also wanting to figure herself out.

What this book is : A fantasy story that presents powerful feminist themes through metaphors and allegories.


What this book isn't :  A book about a culture or people group. While dragons are most notably associated with Asian cultures, the author used these fantastical creatures as a way to showcase a woman’s power and not as a way to shine a light on an often forgotten and marginalized group of people.

Why Read This Book

As a woman, it’s easy to fall into patriarchal and stereotypical ‘womanly duties’ throughout our lives. We’ve been taught not to ask questions, especially those that might tear down society. It’s easier for us to assume household duties and not take the high-paying job because we don’t want to ruffle any feathers. Being loud, seen, heard, respected, and powerful aren’t things that women who ‘fit into’ society do. 

If you’ve heard or felt bogged down by any of these statements, it’s time to shrug off your housecoat and transform into the powerful dragon that you are. While When Women Were Dragons is fantasy, the book opens its readers’ eyes to the power that they hold, just in being a woman. And that is something that everyone needs to be reminded of from time to time.

Quick Quote

“I was four years old when I saw the first dragon. I was four years old when I first learned to be silent about dragons. Perhaps this is how we learn silence -- an absence of words, an absence of context, a hole in the universe where the truth should be.” (p.1)

“There's very little we can control in this life. All we can do is accept whatever comes, learn what we can, and hang onto what we love. And that's it. In the end, the only thing you can hope to control is yourself. At this moment. Which is both a relief and a huge responsibility." (p.236)

Get the Gist

Read the full summary and author interview on Locus Magazine.

How does it fare?

“Barnhill transforms that suppressed rage into a wellspring of power, creating an alternate timeline where women told to suffer in silence instead spontaneously transform into dragons, often immolating abusive men in the process… When Women Were Dragons reminds us how difficult it is to put the knowledge of freedom back into the bottle and the cost to a society that tries.”

Trisha Collopy, The Seattle Times

“How the girls survive the conformist pressures and prejudices of their small-minded town would be sufficiently gripping thanks to Barnhill’s skills at developing complex, empathetic characters. Against the backdrop of increased dragoning episodes and their social havoc (particularly as the dragons mysteriously begin to return from wherever they went), the girls’ saga is ablaze with possibilities not typically available for land- and body-bound souls.”

– Erin Douglass, The Christian Science Monitor

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