title: the tea dragon society
writer/artist: katie o’neill
target audience: middle grade
publisher: oni press
content warnings: brief display of injury and blood
my rating: highly recommended
i received an earc of this from the publisher, via netgalley. this does not influence my thoughts or opinions.
katie o’neill brought me near tears again, y’all 😭😭
the tea dragon festival is a companion to o’neill’s web comic turned graphic novel the tea dragon society. it’s set in a new town, with mostly new characters though, so you can read it totally independently. (but personally, i’d recommend reading both of them only because i love them and they bring me so much joy.) we’re in a world of dragons and magic – mostly the smaller, domesticated tea dragons and most of the magic nowadays is the magic of good tea and food. the main character is rinn, who one day encounters a sleeping dragon when they’re out looking for ingredients. the dragon, aedhan, is quickly welcomed by the town, and we follow along as they all prepare for the yearly tea dragon festival.
so, where to start with this? i don’t even know, i love it all so much. a thought i kept having while reading was that i can’t wait to sell this to people at my job. it’s so inclusive – rinn uses they/them pronouns and has a really heartwarming moment where they think it ”sounds lovely” that dragons can shift from one gender to another at will, most characters are people of colour, one is d/Deaf and sign language is used a lot, and there is an m/m relationship. all of these things are such non-problems in this world of the book, that they’re just there and no one brings attention to it like it’s A Thing. of course i love media that is loud and proud, but i think these quiet ones are really important too. from just looking at this book you wouldn’t really be able to tell that it’s queer, and sometimes that can be a life saver for young queer kids in families who aren’t very accepting.
i just need to also mention the art, because i will never get over it. i love o’neill’s art with everything i’ve got. it’s so simple looking, but there is so much emotion in it. i don’t know how she does it. there are so many colours, and every time a tea dragon is on page i almost pass out because of how cute it is. i would die for the gumpy mountain chamomile, and that is a promise.
just like the tea dragon society, the tea dragon festival is a very soft and quiet story, driven by characters instead of plot. it’s about life and finding your people and your calling, seeing the beauty and wonders in the world around you. it relies heavily on visuals to tell the story, so there isn’t a lot of text, making it accessible to children even if they don’t read fluent english yet. it makes me warm and happy inside, to a level that few things have in the past. really, do yourself a favour and read the tea dragon festival (or anything by katie o’neill, really). it’ll be a quick read, but it’ll make your day brighter. i highly recommend it.