The Tea Dragon Festival by Katie O'Neill, 135 pp, RL 4
The Tea Dragon Festival by Katie O'Neill
Published by Oni Press
Purchased from Barnes & Noble
In this sequel to to The Tea Dragon Society, we find Erik and his partner Hesekeil traveling to Silverleaf, Erik's childhood home high in the mountains, hoping to find a mysterious creature with a bounty on its head. There, Erik's niece, Rinn is practicing to apprentice to a chef, foraging in the wilds around her for ingredients for her dishes - and those of her fellow villagers. While hunting for goatshorn mushrooms, Rinn comes across a dragon who has been asleep for eighty years. Rinn invites Aedhan, who can take human form or dragon form, back to Silverleaf, where they are preparing for their annual Tea Dragon Festival and, with the help of Erik and Hesekeil, they try to figure out what put Aedhan to sleep. As Erik and Hese hunt for clues, Aedhan helps Rinn find the elusive goatshorn mushroom. Together, Aedhan helps Rinn discover that doing what they love can also be a useful contribution to the community, while Rinn helps Aedhan connect with the community of Silverleaf and the time the dragon lost while asleep. The story culminates with solving the mystery and celebrating the festival, honoring the demanding but adorable tea dragons and sharing good food and memories with each other.
As always, O'Neill brings diverse characters to her story. A note before the story begins lets readers know how to read the American Sign Language uses by characters in the story. A page introducing the four main characters lets readers know that Rinn is non-binary, while partners Erik and Hesekeil, both "he," discuss a future where they settle down, build a house and run a tea shop together. O'Neill's illustrations are saturated with color and the world she creates is lush and complete. As always, she builds a strong community that is shown working together and supporting each other, even adding a new layer to the tea dragons themselves. While tea dragons are known to make an extremely close bond with a single caretaker, in Silverleaf, everyone tends to all of the tea dragons and the tea dragons all wander the village.
The Tea Dragon Festival is yet another addition to the world Katie O'Neill is creating, a world we should all aspire to.