The Tea Dragon Festival – Katie O’Neill

 The Tea Dragon Festival – Katie O’Neill, Oni Press, 9781620106556, 2019 

Format: PDF Review Copy

Rating:  1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3.5

Genre: Fantasy

 What did you like about the book? This is the second book in Katie O’Neill’s Tea Dragon series and the story actually takes place before the events in the first book. Like the first book, this story also includes fantastical creatures but there are some other interesting elements such as sign language, gender fluidity, and understanding your value in the world. The story begins in a small village named Silverleaf where Rinn (using the pronoun “they, them”) is studying to be an apprentice to a cook named Lesa. When Lesa was born deaf, the entire village learned sign language so they could all communicate with her. Rinn explains that this is how their village also raises their tea dragons–no one tea dragon belongs to one person and everyone takes care of all of them. Erik and Hesekiel (two characters from the first book) come to visit Erik’s extended family in the village. They are impressed with the community and how everyone works together for the good of the village. One day, while foraging for food, Rinn discovers a sleeping dragon, Aedhan, who says that some woodland creature cast a sleeping spell on him and he has been asleep for 80 years. Erik and Hesekiel make it their mission to confront the creature so that others will not be put under the sleeping spell. Many things develop during the course of the story–Rinn learns the value of her work, Aedhan finds a new home, and Erik and Hesekiel learn the value of community.

Anything you did not like about the book. This book initially confused me because I thought it was a continuation of the story in the first book, however, the events actually take place before the story in the first book. This was not completely clear to me while I was reading the story. Also, in several reviews this book is being praised for its LBGTQ+ positive message, but I am just not seeing it. Rinn is referred to as “they” at the very beginning of the story when the characters are introduced but that is it. There is one part in the story where they and Aedhan discuss how Aedhan’s clan of dragon can shift shapes–even going from male to female and back, but that is it. I did see hand-holding between Erik and Hesekiel in the second book so that confirms their relationship more as romantic than friendship (which was what I thought it was in the first book). The scenarios I just mentioned might be exactly what a young child needs to feel positive about their sexual orientation–if this book series does that for a child then I am all in!

To whom would you recommend this book? This book is perfect for children between the ages of six and nine years old, especially if they enjoy fantasy and magical characters and situations. This may seem strange, but I could almost see reading the second book before the first book in this series–just a thought.

Who should buy this book? Public and elementary school libraries, anyone who works with children between the ages of six and nine years old.

Where would you shelve it? Graphic Novels

 Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes, if you could use this addition to your graphic novel collection. There were aspects of the book that felt a little off, but the positive message of gender fluidity and LBGTQ+ are worth the addition in your collection.

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Kristin Guay, former youth services librarian.

Date of review: June 29, 2020

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