A misfit dragon’s uphill climb to graduate from Dragon Academy takes an unexpected turn in this fine children’s fantasy.
When the young dragons of Frith, an island surrounded by a purple sea, aren’t playing “fizzbang” and eating barbecued gizzards, they’re hard at work at the Dragon Academy trying to master “Flight Theory, Flame Throwing and Dragon Code.” Student dragon Soot finds the classes especially challenging, as he was born with “a loose fire-spurter” and has trouble hitting targets with fireballs. Although he’s bigger than his classmates, sensitive Soot’s wings are smaller, making flight worrisome. A bully named Scorcher and his crowd make fun of Soot, but his wise teacher, professor Blaze, and his best friends “since dragongarten,” Ember and Spark, offer encouragement. Soon, odd things begin happening to Soot, involving the uncouth, slimy Glomgoyls—dragons who lost their abilities to fly after they ate or drove away local creatures known as shoggies. Soot’s adventure begins in earnest when he’s given his long-lost father’s quest pouch, containing an item that magically links the father and son. Could Soot’s missing father still be alive? Soot finds the answer during his final Dragon Academy test—a quest to find a giant spider’s web, shoggie eggs and a tiger lizard skin. During the test, he faces unforeseen dangers and makes discoveries that will change his life and the lives of all the dragons on Frith. By the book’s end, which hints at further adventures to come, Soot’s bravery and compassion are rewarded. Ryan (Marie’s Story, 2008, etc.), the author of a Caribbean-inspired trilogy for adults, deftly layers her debut children’s book with gentle but effective lessons in empathy and friendship. Throughout this light, lively fantasy, she offers colorful imagery, lightly spun with messages of compassion and respect for others. Illustrator Linda Mitsui’s simple black-and-white drawings don’t quite reach the same level as the prose, but her chapter title designs add genuine charm.
An engaging story of a sensitive dragon who finds his strength and courage.