CM . . .
. Volume XVIII Number 5. . . .September 30, 2011
Dragon Seer's Gift.
Toronto, ON: HarperCollins Canada, 2011.
283 pp., hardcover, $19.99.
Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.
Review by Joan Marshall.
Reviewed from Advance Review Copy.
Gwyn put the "D" notebook down. "He put the key in the sewing box? The key to – what did he call it?"
"The lair," Maddie said. She looked pale. "The lair at the back of his church."
"What else does it say?" Gwyn prompted.
"Just one more line. Oh my God, Gwyn. Listen. 'Still, I cannot shake this premonition of dread. Anyone who can read this, should I fail to return, will have the right to use that key.'" She lowered the book to her lap.
"Anyone who can read this. That's us, isn't it?" Gwyn said. 'But what did he mean, 'have the right'?"
"I don't know, but anything Daniel left behind would have died a long time ago."
Gwyn shook his head. "The trip to Boston and back would have taken weeks even if nothing had gone wrong. No one would lock a living creature up for weeks and go away. Give it here." Maddie handed the journal over. "See what he wrote?" Gwyn said after a minute. "'As always, I will put the key in the sewing box.' This wasn't the first time he'd left it locked up, whatever it was."
"But it doesn't make sense. No wonder people thought Daniel was crazy."
For his Heritage Fair project, 12-year-old Gwyn Rae researches one of his ancestors, Daniel Rae, a Victorian naturalist interested in the nature of flight. To avoid the bullies on her soccer team, Gwyn's 14-year old sister helps him find information in the Mews, a section of the Newfoundland provincial archives. Their scientist father, Tom, allows them to see an ancient key that has been passed down through the family, and the children fit it into a door of the local church that was Daniel's first kirk. Behind the door, they find the Rae dragon, a gentle, considerate, chicken-sized dragon named Hermit who is delighted to see them after a sleep of 112 years. Caring for and hiding even a small dragon proves to be difficult, but when their mother's friend, Sunny, who heads up the research at the L'Anse aux Meadows Viking site in Newfoundland, finds and displays the weaving tablets Hermit needs to break the Viking curse over the nefarious reputation attributed to dragons, Gwyn spirits the tablets away long enough to weave a piece depicting the world in harmony. With the curse broken, Hermit dives into the local lake, Quidi Vidi, and returns to the magical world of dragons while Gwyn and Maddie, energized and driven to improve the relationship between people and the earth, are pleased to find proof on the internet of the respectful way the ancient Picts treated both dragons and the earth.
This thoughtful book will appeal to middle school students who are interested in history, puzzles and science. Its themes of keeping the balance in the world between nature and man, and showing respect for other people, are currently popular and will draw the intended readership. The theme of throwing oneself into a topic and developing a passion for knowledge and ideas will set up a sparkle in the eyes of those children who excel at school but keep it hidden because they are afraid of being bullied.
This novel is also very amusing in places. Hermit and his reactions to the modern world will provoke laughter. Gwyn is your typical 12-year-old boy, happy to leave his room a mess and terrified of a local bully. He finds that he does feel better when he throws himself into a project, and, in the end, does manage to make a friend of the bully. Maddie, his protective, thoughtful older sister, discovers that making new friends provides her with the strength she needs to avoid nasty girl bullies. Their parents are portrayed as good people from whom it is necessary to hide things while the mystery is being solved. However, the children love them dearly, a comforting idea to the middle school student. Although the children and their father do much of their research on the internet, cell phones and texting are not ubiquitous, so this has a somewhat old fashioned and young feel to it. The dialogue is completely natural and up to date, carrying much of the plot. Even the research is reported back and forth among Hermit, Maddie and Gwyn as conversation, keeping the "telling" to a minimum.
Joan Marshall is a Winnipeg, MB, bookseller.
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