Written & Illustrated by: Katie O’Neill
For ages:4 years and up
Language: English and ASL (American Sign Language)
Topics Covered: Family, Fantasy, Friendship, Growing Up.
This is the second story in the Tea Dragon Society books, but is actually a prequel to the first one. Longer than the first, it still took under an hour to completely finish (40ish minutes probably). This graphic novel does more world-building, and takes place in the same village as the first story (but many years before). Rinn, our main character, is a non-binary person of color. They really enjoy foraging for plants and mushrooms for both themself and the villagers. Context clues provide readers with the inkling that the entire village is vegetarian (a dragon is at first very salty about this but quickly changes his tune upon eating Rinn’s cooking), and again there is a majority characters of color. Another plot point is that the entire village is bilingual in ASL, sign language! The reader learns that a villager, Lesa, was born Deaf. Everyone else learned sign to communicate with her, and it’s used in everyday conversation even when Lesa isn’t around.
Rinn comes upon a dragon that was put to sleep by a forest spirit for 80 years, and was unable to watch over the village like he was supposed to. The gentle fantasy nature of this book provides gorgeous illustrations of the really adorable tea dragons (which regular dragons look down on as domesticated rodents). My favorite was probably the Alpine Chamomile Dragon, which always looks grumpy and wants treats. The village has several tea dragons that roam freely and are cared for by all.
The ease in which this language is represented and embraced by the community is incredible, something easily slipped into the storyline and a lot of resources about signing and ASL itself are in the back of the book. These books prove that diversity isn’t difficult, all it takes is some imagination and a desire to create a beautiful and inclusive world filled with multi-faceted representation.
About the Author & Illustrator:
Katie O’Neill is a self-taught writer and illustrator based in New Zealand. She’s interested in nature and all kinds of creatures, mindfulness and mental health, and the magic of every day life. To date Katie has published three books, which have won Eisner, Harvey and Dwayne McDuffie awards for children’s comics, as well as being Cybils Award finalists and featured on the ALA Rainbow List.
Outside of work Katie loves tea and food, plants, transitional seasons, reading, walking and listening to podcasts.