Cover of Tea with an Old Dragon by Jane Yolen

Tea with an Old Dragon

Illustrated by Monica Vachula
Boyds Mills 1998
ISBN# 1-56397-657-9 Boys Mill hardcover

My old college, Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, contacted me and asked if I would write a picture book about the founder for the Sophia Smith Centennial, I explained how long picture books actually take, which was a good two years longer than their time frame. However, we got Boyds Mills to go along with the idea, and I found them Smith grad (and Hatfield native) Monica Vachula to illustrate the book. She did a phenomenal job and together we created a picture book about Sophia Smith, the Hatfield woman who was the first woman in America to create a college for women with her own money. I took a little known incident from Sophia’s life (well, to be honest, most of her life is little known!) in which she let a bold little neighbor girl come and play her piano. Why is this incident important? Because she was really known around town as a bit of a dragon lady esepcially where children were concerned, and she was also stone deaf. Therefore, the incident showed that the deafness had made her fierce, and that she really wanted girls to have the same learning opportunities as boys. There’s an intro by college president Ruth Simmons. The book was one of Yankee Magazine’s 100 Classic New England Children’s Books. It was also It was also a 1999 Honor Book for the Storytelling World Awards given by Storytelling World magazine and announced at the International Reading Assn. 1999 conference.

What reviewers have said:

  • “Would that every college had a picture story book about its founders that is so well researched, artistically written and beautifully illustrated. Ruth J. Simmons, President of Smith college, in her foreword, gives a few highlights about the spirit and accomplishments of Sophia Smith (1796-1870), Smith College’s founder. In the story, local children know Sophia Smith as “the old dragon.” Having such a reputation would be a natural deterrent for most of the neighborhood children but not for Louisa Greene, the daughter of a local minister. Louisa is curious about this so-called dragon and wants to know where the dragon lives. Her unbridled curiosity leads her to Miss Sophy’s house seeking information. Here she finds kindness and hospitality instead of danger. Highly recommended for all ages. A sheer delight.” — Catholic Library World
  • “The illustrations in this picture book create the feel of a New England town of the mid-1800s, and Jane Yolen captures just the right language to tell the story of a young girl who acquaints herself with her neighbor, the founder of Smith College. Louisa, a six-year-old girl, hears there is a dragon living nearby and ventures out to find Sophia Smith instead (the fabled dragon she was looking for). Louisa, who is curious, spirited, and determined, meets her match in the older woman; both she and Sophia are satisfying characters who dare to challenge the norms around them. As Sophia says to Louisa, “A girl needs to acquire wisdom and learn to think … especially a bold little girl like you, who dares to come up the long street to have tea with an old dragon.” According to the end notes, Sophia Smith indeed believed that women should get an education in order to “restore their usefulness, happiness, and honor.” — The New Advocate
  • “A charming story with splendid illustrations … The text is clear and concise, sure to hold a child’s attention, while the colorful folk art-like illustrations give the book definite adult crossover potential.” — Bookselling This Week
  • “This smoothly written, mildly humorous historical slice of life is bound to have a regional appeal.” — School Library Journal
  • “A marvelous look into history, biography and story.”– Yellow Brick Road