by Rebecca Rupp
Sequel to The Dragon of Lonely Island. Title is a bit odd- the dragon didn\’t return from anywhere, it\’s still living on this island and the children come back to visit. Once again it\’s a summer vacation for them, parents are off on their own holiday and their great-aunt who owns the island also absent. So it\’s just the three kids and the two caretakers of the grand house. Of course they immediately go to visit the dragon in its cave on the hill, and find trouble- there\’s a stranger on the island, a rich man has a yacht tied not too far from the dragon\’s hill, and a team of researchers has set up camp with tents on the beach. The children are frightened and upset- it\’s a private island, owned by their aunt, no visitors allowed. First they spy and try to figure out what the strangers are doing, and report their presence to the caretakers and via letters to their aunt. They warn the dragon, who cautions them that these visitors may be innocent, just studying wildlife or birdwatching. But the kids suspect they aim to find the dragon. Just like the prior book, this one has four stories- the main one of the children trying to figure out what the strangers are doing, and thwart them, and separate stories that the three-headed dragon tells them, giving them lessons on not jumping to conclusions, observing the evidence at hand, making their own choices, etc.
The three stories are thus: a young boy tending is tending his family\’s sheep on a mountainside when other villagers cry alarm that there\’s a monster in the area stealing and eating sheep. When one of his own lambs goes missing the boy goes looking for it and finds the dragon who, polite as always, protests that it doesn\’t eat sheep. He finds the lamb stuck in a nearby shrub and warns the dragon to escape as the villagers are searching for the monster to destroy it. But after the dragon flies away he encounters the real sheep-eater: a large wolf . . . I liked this one okay.
Second story is of a young page who longs to become a knight and fight battles. His friend is a princess in the castle who hates doing embroidery and listening to the other young ladies swoon over knights. They overhear tales of a dragon hiding in the nearby forest, and sneak out together to find it. The boy takes a sword, encouraged by the princess to attempt killing the dragon. Upon meeting the dragon, they soon realize all their preconceptions about dragons are wrong- and then one of the knights shows up and promptly attacks the dragon. They have to do something! This was my favorite of the stories.
Third tale is set in America during time of slavery. Its main character is a young slave girl who with her family runs away from the plantation they have lived on all their lives- because of rumors that some of them will be sold. They\’re trying to connect with the Underground Railroad but are discovered by men with dogs just before reaching a river they need to cross to reach a free state. Earlier in the story the girl had met the dragon in the forest, now it saves them by setting fire to the trees between them and the trackers, so they have time to get across the river. This last one felt out of place to me, for some reason.
I\’m not sure why. Maybe it\’s easier for me to mentally accept a story about a shepherd boy or young page in medieval times encountering a dragon, even modern kids on a remote island- but pairing dragons with a story of escaping slaves feels more along the lines of magical realism or urban fantasy, which never sits well with me. I guess why not have escaped slaves rescued by a dragon? but the historical subject matter of that feels so much more serious, it felt oddly jarring with the other material in this book. The spying and mystery aspect of the modern part of the story isn\’t quite my thing either, but it was lively enough and I liked the characterization of the children. It\’s still a well-told tale with some very good lessons but overall this wasn\’t as enjoyable for me as the first book.
Borrowed from the public library.
Rating: 3/5 150 pages, 2005