Rinn lives in a village that subsists on mountain plants and the tea of the village’s tea dragons. While foraging, she meets Aedhan, a young dragon who was asleep for eighty years! Rinn’s uncle Erik and his companion Hezekiel try to solve the mystery of Aedhan’s sleep while the village prepares for their tea dragon festival. Rinn and her fellow villagers hatch a plan to help the newly awakened dragon adjust to his new life.
The Tea Dragon Festival is a sweet story about finding your place, and O’Neill weaves Rinn and Aedhan’s challenges together—with a dash of mystery for flavor—to make a sweet and thoughtful narrative. While Aedhan struggles with his guilt and loss, Rinn tries to figure out how she can best contribute to her village. Although there are serious topics covered, Rinn and Aedhan’s friendship and support for one another keep the story balanced and sweet.
One particular strength is the kindness the characters show to one another throughout the whole book. Rinn and Aedhan also receive a lot of support and validation from the other characters and return the gift. For instance, Aedhan helps with the festival preparations, and Rinn and the other villagers use sign language to communicate with the village cook who does not communicate orally.
O’Neill’s colorful, loose paintings effectively capture the tea dragon world; O’Neill has a knack for setting the scene with well-rendered scenery shots before moving into panels that effectively tell the story. The tea dragons, tiny stuffed animal sized dragons, are absolutely adorable, and O’Neill captures the mannerisms of the dragons and the other characters very well. Additionally, the human cast is portrayed in a wide variety of hues, and O’Neill’s brightly colored illustrations of them living and laughing together contribute to the light mood.
The Tea Dragon Festival is a sweet, charming fantasy story that should hold wide appeal. Oni Press sets the age range at children/middle grade, but teen and adult readers who want a light fantasy story should also enjoy it. Fans of The Tea Dragon Society will be excited to see the further development of the world and its dragons, as well as the appearance of Erik and Hesekiel, who are featured in that title. That being said, The Tea Dragon Festival stands on its own, and readers wouldn’t need to read The Tea Dragon Society first to appreciate it (although they should totally read it at some point!). Readers are also able to learn further details about the dragons in the glossary. Librarians whose patrons have loved O’Neill’s previous work will want to make sure to have this one on their shelves.
The Tea Dragon Festival
By Katie O’Neill
Art by Sinistmer
Oni Press, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: 5-11