McCaffrey is smart. She knows that this book series is so complex that it there is no way in which to begin any plot without a recap of past events. She includes in this tale a map of Pern, a useful character list, and a Forward that deftly explains the history of the planet and its dragons. Then we meet Menolly. Born in a small fishing village, the girl is the most talented musician in the village, but she yearns to become a professional Harper and create music as well as sing/play it. Unfortunately, no woman has ever been a Harper before and her conservatively minded family is determined to squash this dream of Menolly's before she shames them in some way. When life for Menolly becomes too harsh, she escapes into the wide world and takes shelter in a cave. There, she discovers a cache of fire lizards, small cousins of the dragons that protect Pern. By witnessing the birth of nine of these pet sized dragons and tending to them, Menolly acquires nine faithful affectionate companions that will help her as she determines how best to live and survive.
I don't think I've adequately conveyed the plot as well as I would have liked. Needless to say, long before Tamora Pierce made her name as the primo Heroines-In-Fantasy genre writer, McCaffrey was writing fantastic stories such as this. Boys reading this book will undoubtedly enjoy it, but I feel that like myself when young, girls will really gravitate towards the reading. Menolly is incredibly talented, but smothered and unappreciated by her family members. The fact that she possesses a brilliance with music and nine tiny dragons makes her special and different and you really want people to turn around and cheer her. When such a thing finally happens in the book, the reader is awash in joy for the character. McCaffrey is so adept that reading this book is just a delight. The only real problem with it comes with an odd backstory about the dragonrider Brekke. Up until that point, the book has mostly been easy to follow and read. Suddenly Menolly is talking with Brekke's step-daughter and the reader, if they haven't read the previous books in the series, is momentarily confused and bewildered by this plot that's flown in from left field. Otherwise, the text is perfectly good.
If you've a kid who likes fantasy (or heck, an adult for that matter) then you cannot do better than Menolly's series of Pern books, referred to as the Harper's Hall Trilogy by some. I recommend you start them with either this book or the equally amusing (and well-written) "The White Dragon", another good Intro. to Pern book for the kiddies. Personally, my heart belongs to "Dragonsong" and I cannot recommend it enough to those who've a love of people, dragons, and a rollicking good yarn.