A Dragon Used to Live Here by Annette LeBlanc Cate. Candlewick Press, 2022. 9781536204513
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4
What did you like about the book? Noble siblings Thomas and Emily have always lived in a castle with their parents. The pair attend typical classes for young nobility; in addition to traditional academics, Thomas has knight training, Emily has needlepoint and dancing, and they both are learning archery. While waiting for the archery master one day, Thomas decides to take a few practice shots, and misfires one of his best arrows. As they search for the stray arrow they discover a hidden door in one of the castle’s towers and meet Meg, a cranky woman who is in charge of a group of scribes hard at work. Meg claims to be a childhood friend of Thomas and Emily’s mother, and hints that there is a long and sordid tale to be told, involving a tennis match, some elves, and a dragon that used to inhabit the castle. The children return each day with fresh baked goods for the scribes as Meg slowly tells the story of her defunct friendship with their mother, the subsequent kidnapping of their mother by the dragon, and the clever ploy she and their knightly father came up with to rescue her. Emily is enthralled, and Thomas is skeptical; but neither can believe that their seemingly serious and slightly boring mother had ever had any adventures.
When the scribes are assigned the task of making invitations for a surprise anniversary party for the parents, the children are pressed into service to help out, and Emily concocts a scheme to reunite Meg and her mother at the party. In a funny and action-packed sequence of events, she and Thomas explore the whole castle and grounds (ending up in the moat, which may or may not have crocodiles) in search of a missing tennis trophy that they hope will settle the differences between the two childhood friends. Their efforts do not go unrewarded, and the concluding scenes at the party leave readers with a satisfying ending that also leaves the door open for further adventures!
Featuring a medieval setting and an entertaining cast of archetypal characters and magical creatures, A Dragon Used to Live Here still feels in many ways like a contemporary story. The parents are said to be away ‘at a conference’ for most of the book, leaving the kids in the care of their oblivious grandparents, and female characters do not appear in subservient roles. The witty dialog is peppered with plenty of snark from Meg, squabbling by the siblings, and references to how things were in the old days. Despite these modern aspects, there are lots of magical elements and details of castle life to enjoy and appreciate. Ink drawings by the author illustrate many of the major scenes.
Anything you did not like about the book? At one point, Thomas asks Emily how Meg knows so much about what happened to their mother and the dragon if the two girls were not friends at the time. It’s a fair question, and one that is not answered satisfactorily.
To whom would you recommend this book? This story-within-a-story will make a terrific readaloud for upper elementary classes; listeners will be as anxious to get back to the tale as Thomas and Emily are each time they see Meg. Readers in grades 3-5 who prefer their fantasy books to be more funny and mysterious than scary or villainous will appreciate this one.
Who should buy this book? Public and elementary school libraries
Where would you shelve it? Fiction
Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No
Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Leigh Russell King, Lincoln Street School, Northborough, Massachusetts.
Date of review: June 23, 2022