June 7 – Celebrating Our First Middle Grade Monday

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About the Holiday

I’m thrilled to welcome back Jakki Licare, who took time away from the blog to help her boys with virtual schooling. Jakki and I are also excited to tell you that on the first Monday of every month, Celebrate Picture Books will become Celebrate Middle Grade Books, with Jakki’s reviews of fantastic books for older kids. What does she have up first? A book that has it all – dragons, suspense, magic, and a new team of smart, brave, kind, and funny friends for readers to take adventures with. 

Thanks to Sterling Children’s Books for sharing a copy of Dragon Mountain for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

Review by Jakki Licare

Dragon Mountain 

By Katie and Kevin Tsang 

 

Synopsis

This synopsis contains spoilers

Billy Chang is dreading summer because his parents have shipped him off from his home in San Francisco to attend a summer camp in China so he can brush up on his Mandarin and “‘learn more about his Chinese heritage.'” But when he is paired with Dylan O’Donnell, Charlotte Bell, and Liu Ling-Fei for a scavenger hunt things start to look up. Determined to win, the kids take a shortcut – which they instantly regret when a tiger chases them. Unable to get away, the kids link hands and face off against the tiger together in front of a mountain. Incredibly, the tiger backs away and vanishes into thin air.

When they return back to camp, Ling-Fei realizes that she’s lost the necklace her grandmother gave her. The next morning the kids go back to search for Ling-Fei’s missing necklace. As they search the area, Billy realizes that they’ve lost something else – Ling-Fei! One by one the kids go missing, until Billy is all alone. Billy is convinced that something is pulling them into the mountain and he marches in to find his friends.

Deep within the mountain, he finds his friends trapped by a group of dragons. The dragons are glad that the children came because they’ve been waiting for the prophesized four to open it. The dragons explain that the mountain contains a special portal that connects the human and dragon realms together. These dragons are the portal guardians. An evil dragon, known as the Dragon of Death, tried to come through the portal thousands of years ago to maximize its powers by bonding with a human. The guardians fought to keep the Dragon of Death out, but they were unable to defeat the Dragon of Death so they sent her through a time portal. As they sent her back, she cast a spell that sealed the guardians in the mountain until they met their human matches. 

One of the dragons has the ability to see into the future, and she has seen the Dragon of Death coming back and enslaving the human realm. The kids want to protect their world and agree to bond with the dragons. The kids bond with their dragons by naming them. Once they’re bonded, the dragons are stronger in ability as well as size. Three of the dragons have magical pearls that will give the kids super powers: Charlotte receives super strength, Ling-Fei can sense nature, and Dylan has the power of persuasion. Billy’s dragon doesn’t have a pearl, but they know the fourth pearl is close. Billy realizes he has seen it at the summer camp. 

The kids head back to camp and break into the owner’s office that night. Billy finds the pearl on top of a bookshelf. When he grabs it, he loses his balance and does a perfect backwards flip. Billy now has agility superpowers. Now that they have the pearls and are bonded, the children are ready for the dragon realm. But the dragons find the entrance is still barred to them by the curse. The kids have to go through on their own to open the entrance for the dragons. The tiger that chased them earlier is waiting for them and is the keeper of the curse. The tiger attacks them with electric bolts and Billy distracts it. Using her powers, Ling-Fei learns that they must destroy the tiger’s heart. Charlotte uses her super strength and rips the tiger’s heart out.  

Now they can enter the Dragon Realm with their dragons, but they find that the entire dragon Realm is poisoned. The dragons then have to fight off the the Dragon of Death’s helpers, Noxwings, and soon the dragons are captured. With the help of Billy’s dragon, though, the kids are able to get away. The kids travel through the dragon realm on their own and have many adventures in which they must use their powers and wit to help them survive this dangerous land.

They finally reach the Nowxing’s camp and find hundreds of cages filled with captured dragons. The Noxwings are opening a portal to bring back the Dragon of Death by draining the dragons of their energy. The kids learn that if they destroy the floating flames that surround the portal, the cages will open and the portal will close. The kids work together and destroy the flames, but Billy is attacked. He’s about to be killed when his dragon swoops in and saves him.

They’re winning the battle and the portal is almost closed when the summer camp’s owner appears out of the forest. He grabs Dylan and heads toward the portal. He created the whole summer camp just to find the children he needed to open the dragon realm. The owner is determined to bring back the Dragon of Death. He jumps through, pulling Dylan with him. The kids are determined to get their friend back and all the freed dragons swear to help them. The kids and their dragons will travel through time to save Dylan and defeat the Dragon of Death.

Review

 

This fast-paced book will be sure to keep your middle grader’s attention. The writing is very immersive and you’re soon off on one adventure after another. Perfect for 8-12 year olds who love dragons and are looking for fun characters that you can’t help rooting for. Katie and Kevin Tsang’s dragons were inspired by both Chinese and European folklore and they even blended two of the dragons to create hybrids of both cultures. They also drew inspiration from the Chinese symbols of the Eight Great Treasures to create the eight pearls in Dragon Mountain which give the kids their superpowers. 

My favorite part of this book was how the characters work through their problems together. All of the characters are incredibly different and often their personalities clash, but they’re able to talk through their troubles together. After the children are separated from their dragons in the Dragon Realm, Charlotte is angry with Billy for running away. The group falls apart as they can’t agree on what to do. But after talking it through they’re able to come up with the beginnings of a plan that they can all agree with. This is one example of how the Tsangs do an amazing job of focusing on the intricacies of team work and thread it through the plot of the story. 

Billy Chang, the main character, is a surfing champ who is also good at keeping his head in stressful situations. Dylan O’Donnell is friendly, funny, and very cautious. Charlotte Bell is competitive, motivated, and smart. And Liu Ling-Fei is sweet, quiet, and generous. When the dragons are introduced, we learn that each child is destined to bond with a dragon. My kids and I loved guessing who was going to be matched with who. Some of the bonds were surprising.

My seven year old especially loved the dragons in this book. They start off as menacing and scary but, just like Billy and his friends, we soon learn to trust them. Each dragon’s personality is as unique as those of the kids, and they each carry their own powers that we learn about along the way.  I’m looking forward to the second book so we can spend more time with the dragons!

There are two distinct story worlds. The first part of the story takes place in a Chinese mountain. We get a very brief introduction to the summer camp before we are swept into the mountain. The other half of the book is spent in the dragon realm which is full of floating islands and has three moons and a mysterious red dome. The dragon realm’s barren world accurately reflects the danger the kids are in and increases the reader’s anxiety. As the kids try to maneuver through this foreign terrain, they come across many new and unexpected dangers. My son’s favorite part is when the kids have to bargain with a rock troll.

Dragon Mountain is a fast-paced, immersive adventure book that’s perfect for dragon lovers of all ages especially fans of How to Train Your Dragon and will make a great addition to class libraries as well personal libraries.

Parental Considerations: This book does contain fantasy fighting.

Ages 8 – 12

Grade Level 3 – 7 | AR Level: 4.8

Sterling Children’s Books 2020 | ISBN 978-1454935964

You can learn more about Katie & Kevin Tsang, their Dragon Realm series, and their Sam Wu Is Not Afraid series on their website.

Adventure into the Dragon Realm with this book trailer!

celebrate-picture-books-middle-grade-review-dragon-mountain-cover

You can find Dragon Mountain at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

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