Katie O’Neill continues to write my favorite all ages books. This is her second Tea Dragon book, the first was The Tea Dragon Society, which I reviewed for CBR10. In the tea dragon world, society is made of several species; mundane humans, people with horns/hooves/antlers, animal people, and dragons. There is a small amount of magic in the world, and it is all brought charmingly to life with O’Neill’s soft illustrations.
Both books are wonderfully inclusive. People come in a wide range of hues. Relationships happen in a variety of gender parings and across species. Some characters are differently abled. Erik in The Tea Dragon Society uses a wheelchair and Lesa in The Tea Dragon Festiveal is mute so communicates through sign language. In The Tea Dragon Festival, one of the main characters, Rinn, is gender ambiguous and is referred to as ‘they’ in the opening description.
The Tea Dragon Festival is a story about finding identity and community. In the small, remote mountain village Silverleaf, there is a tight knit community that collectively cares for tea dragons. Tea dragons are adorable tiny dragons that have slow growing tea plants on them. The memories of experiences shared between tea dragon and caregiver are stored in the tea leaves. When the tea is harvested and brewed, the drinker gets to share in those memories.
Beyond the group effort of caring for the tea dragons, the village is community in the truest sense of the word. When Lesa was born mute, the village collectively learned sign language so everyone can communicate with her. When Rinn goes out gathering, they collect for everyone who is in need of something that grows in the wild.
Rinn is uncertain of their place in the village. There is a desire to apprentice with the head chef of the village, Lesa, because Rinn enjoys cooking and wants to be better. But what Rinn excels at is foraging and gathering, going out into the forest and mountain slopes to harvest things for everyone in the community. However, Rinn doesn’t see the value due to how easy it is for them.
Aedhan is a full dragon that was tasked with watching over the village. Shortly after his arrival, he fell into a magical slumber and slept for eighty years until Rinn awoke him at the start of the story. Embarrassed for having failed in his duty and saddened by all the lost time, Aedhan slowly finds his place within Silverleaf village through Rinn’s help.
Together, Rinn and Aedhan discover themselves and their role within the community, with a little assistance from each other and the tea dragons. The twelve and eight year old in our house adore these books as much as I do. We can’t recommend them strongly enough for their sweet, simple stories, gentle messages, and lovely illustrations.