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'If students can't learn the way we teach, we must teach the way they learn' (Ignacio Estrada, via Tomlinson)

Book Review: Dragon Dawn (Black Dog Books)

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 14, 2008


It was in 2004 when DragonKeeper was shortlisted for the CBCA Book of the Year for Younger Readers, that I discovered the very talented author Carole Wilkinson.  It was my first year as teacher-librarian at Mossgiel Park PS and I was keen to reassert the primacy of literature in the library program.  I bought all the books on the shortlist, devoured DragonKeeper  over the weekend – and began reading it to my students the following Monday.   

The book went on to win Book of the Year and took out a host of other awards, and my students and I went on to become keen fans of this wonderful Melbourne author.  The sequel, Garden of the Purple Dragon,  was shortlisted everywhere in 2006, Dragon Moon won the CBCA Award in 2008, and now we have the prequel – Dragon Dawn – which shows us Danzi as a young dragon, a mere 1000 years old…

I had thought, because it’s a prequel, that the book might suffer because I thought I already knew how it would end, but I hadn’t reckoned on Wilkinson’s ingenuity as a writer of plot-driven narrative.  The story begins as Danzi, unable to hibernate in Winter as all dragons should, decides to return the last effects of his former dragonkeeper Chen-Mo to his family. En route he meets a wily trickster called Bingwen who has more than a little knowledge about dragons.  Danzi, however, dismisses him as a potential replacement for Chen-Mo because (with all the arrogance of an adolescent dragon) he thinks he doesn’t need one, and because Bingwen doesn’t meet the job-selection criteria.  He is right, not left-handed, and he’s dishonest, ripping off the poor with his sleight-of-hand trickery.  Danzi is suspicious of Bingwen, but as he wearies on his journey he comes to depend on him for food, fire, encouragement and strategies to overcome danger.

And danger there is, aplenty.  Wilkinson doesn’t mince the cruelty and barbarity of life in Ancient China.  People are miserably poor, and invading armies stop at nothing to achieve their goals.  The author doesn’t labour the details of a gruesome massacre but it’s quite clear that Evil is omnipresent. 

Despite his shape-shifting powers and ability to fly out of trouble, Danzi is always at risk.  A dragon would make a fine gift for an Emperor to display in his Imperial Palace, and his body parts can be harvested for necromancy.  This adds to the tension in the plot and the interest lies in whether or not Bingwen will betray Danzi to the Emperor’s soldiers and whether or how Danzi can elude the capture that eventually lands him in Master Lan’s clutches. 

Like all others in this compelling series, Dragon Dawn is highly recommended.  It’s a slim book, intended to lure young readers into the series, and it’s easy reading. 

Danzi is only a young dragon in this episode, so there may yet be more prequels to come!

PS Black Dog Books have an excellent children’s list, and they regularly offer free PD (with champagne and nibbles!) to accompany the launch of new titles.  I went to the launch of The Octopus’s Garden by Dr Michael Norman last week and was entranced by this book that comes complete with a DVD that shows footage of underwater creatures doing the most amazing things. My science week activity will be a breeze this year!

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