Social life

Local Talent: Caroline McAlister


By Allison Stalberg

Children’s book writer and English Professor at Guilford College, Caroline McAlister, has a new book coming to bookstore shelves on March 21.
The book is a children’s book called John Ronald’s Dragons: The Story of J. R. R. Tolkien. McAlister was inspired to write the story when Guilford College’s Jan-term program asked if she would be interested in teaching about fantasy writers like Tolkien and C.S. Lewis in Oxford, England.
“I started reading everything I could about them and buy them,” said McAlister. “Tolkien has that essay on fairy stories in which he’s…defining fantasy and also justifying it. He’s got this line in there; he said ‘When I was a child, I desired dragons more than anything else.’
“That line just hit me. I knew immediately I could write a children’s book based on that childhood inspiration he had. If you’re writing a novel and you have a main character, the action should be driven by the character’s desires. Having this child who wanted dragons gave me a plot, gave me a place to go.”
McAlister’s book is noteworthy for its historical accuracy. She applied much of the story to what she learned about Tolkien while teaching her students in Oxford.
“I got this idea for a refrain where he’s looking everywhere for dragons but there are none so I could tell each little episode of his life. At school he did this, but there were no dragons, he did this, but there were no dragons.”
The book was illustrated by Eliza Wheeler.
“She’s amazing,” said McAlister. “That was exciting, seeing someone else interpret your words and see what they did with them visually.”
McAlister is working on an M.F.A. in children’s literature at Hollins University. For her, writing for children has been a passion.
“I think I was really sick of the way scholars write with all this abstract stuff,” she said. “I wanted to write something concrete. I started when my kids were young and I was reading to them every night. I just had those voices sort of stuck in my head from reading out loud. I got really excited about the way words and pictures work together.”
For the future, McAlister’s goal is to publish one to two picture books a year. She is already under contract to write about C.S. Lewis, his brother and their imaginary worlds.
McAlister will do public readings of John Ronald’s Dragons: The Story of J. R. R. Tolkien. She will read at the Barnes and Noble in the Friendly Center on March 24 at 7 p.m., at Scuppernong Books on March 25, and at Guilford’s Hege Library on April 18 at 7 p.m.
Interested in purchasing her book? You can pre-order it on Amazon.
To learn more about McAlister’s work, you can visit her website at