The Tea Dragon Festival takes place in the universe introduced in the Eisner-winning The Tea Dragon Society (2017) and is a prequel of sorts, featuring two characters from the first book. Taking place in a mountain village called Silverleaf, Tea Dragons are small dragons that live with the villagers; the villagers care for them, even pamper them, and harvest tea leaves that the dragons grow on their bodies. Each dragon is named for the teas they produce: we’ve previously met Jasmine, Roobios, and Chamomile, and The Tea Dragon Festival debuts some additional dragons: Fennel, Marshmallow, and Mountain Chamomile.
A girl named Rinn goes into the woods to gather ingredients and discovers a real dragon, fast asleep. Upon waking, Aedhan – the dragon – explains that he was sent to protect Silverleaf, but dozed off. But he’s ready for the barley tea celebrations at the next Tea Dragon Festival! The only problem is… the barley tea celebration happened 80 years ago. To lift Aedhan’s spirits, Rinn brings him back to the village and introduces him to everyone, including her Uncle Erik and his companion, Hesekiel, who previous Tea Dragon readers will remember. The couple are younger here, and are still in their bounty hunting days; they deduce that the bounty they are hunting – a mysterious forest creature who can put people to sleep for decades. While Erik and Hesekiel seek out the bounty, Rinn includes Aedhan in festival preparations, and endears him to the village – and vice versa.
This is just a lovely, uplifting story. Katie O’Neill once again gives us a world where diverse characters live and work together in harmony; we have fluid gender identities and diverse characters, even diverse species, living among one another in peace. It’s a visually beautiful story, with verdant forest colors and lush landscapes. Aedhan is a shape-shifting dragon who looks stunning, majestic, in flight and shifts into a softer, humanoid form to interact with the Silverleaf inhabitants. Back matter includes a note about tea dragons and dragons, and an Alpine Tea Dragon Handbook, introducing three new tea dragons from the story. A wonderful fantasy that will make readers happy.
The Tea Dragon Society webpage has a cast of characters, an almanac of tea dragons, and the tea dragon webcomic! Add to your friendly list of links for kids!
Katie O’Neill is an Eisner and Harvey Award-winning graphic novelist. Visit her webpage for more about her books and illustration.