Book: “The Tea Dragon Society” by Kate O’Neill
Publishing Info: Oni Press, October 2017
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description: From the award-winning author of Princess Princess Ever After comes The Tea Dragon Society, a charming all-ages book that follows the story of Greta, a blacksmith apprentice, and the people she meets as she becomes entwined in the enchanting world of tea dragons.
After discovering a lost tea dragon in the marketplace, Greta learns about the dying art form of tea dragon care-taking from the kind tea shop owners, Hesekiel and Erik. As she befriends them and their shy ward, Minette, Greta sees how the craft enriches their lives—and eventually her own.
Review: Now see here, I may be the resident horror/thriller/true crime/all things macabre blogger, but I, too, am sometimes in need of a break from those things. While I do love me all the dark, dank, and creepy of the world, every once in awhile I yearn for a serious palate cleanser to take me down from a self made anxiety tower where I find myself perched all too often. So while at the desk at work the other day, my dear friend Tami (who is also the children’s librarian at my library) handed me this book and said “You are going to love this.” Boy oh boy, was she right, and was “The Tea Dragon Society” everything I needed in that moment!!! Hell, the cover alone gave me a vocal and physical reaction the moment I saw it.
“The Tea Dragon Society” is a calming and quiet graphic novel for kids, though I would argue that it’s suitable for all ages of youth AND adult as well. It takes place in an unspecified fantasy world, where there are dragons and goblins and animal creatures, and while none of it is really explained in depth, it really doesn’t have to be. This is just the world the story takes place in and it needs to explanation. We follow Greta, the daughter of a blacksmith who finds that her passion in life may actually be centered on Tea Dragon rearing. Tea dragons are dragons who grow tea leaves on their horns. Different kinds of dragons produce different kinds of tea. From Jasmine Dragons to Rooibos Dragons to Ginger Dragons, these creatures need love and attention to make the best leaves. IS THIS NOT THE CUTEST THING YOU’VE EVER HEARD? Maybe I’m biased, as I love love LOVE dragons, but the creativity and the gentle sweetness of it just hits me right in the feels.
And let’s talk about those who blacksmith and those who raise tea dragons, and what that means for gender roles in this world. Right off the bat we are introduced to Greta’s mother, who is teaching Greta how to blacksmith. Greta’s mother is implied to be one of the best blacksmiths around, and it is Greta’s father who is the artist within the family. It was so refreshing to see a mother teaching her daughter a craft that is often associated with masculinity, and teaching her the family business. While Greta has some reservations about blacksmithing and her personal devotion to it, it’s never because of her gender. Along with that, the people who raise the tea dragons are two men, Hesekiel and Erik (though Heseikiel is some kind of animalesque being, kind of looking like a llama?). Erik used to be an adventurer, but after an accident those days are behind him. However, he is never shown as being weakened or at a disadvantage because he lost this previous life. On the contrary, he’s settled into a new life of dragon rearing and gardening as well as maintaining the home that he and his partner Hesekiel share.
We also get some really good diversity in this book, as Greta and her family are darker skinned, as is Erik. Along with that, Erik is in a wheelchair because of an accident in his past. As mentioned before, Erik and Hesekiel are romantic as well as business partners, and their relationship is so lovely and shows years of devotion and caring. Minette, Erik and Hesekiel’s ward, is also representative of a different ability set, and while I don’t really want to spoil it here, I will say that she also shows that with these inherent disadvantages she can still do what she loves. In the picture of the previous Tea Dragon Society there was also diversity, showing that just about anyone could take on this life and be successful at it. While I do think that explicit discussions of why diversity matters, and being explicit about these differences in these stories are important, I also like seeing normalized diversity such as in this world. Especially since fantasy and sci-fi does have a diversity problem within the stories that are told. This goes to show that it can be done and that it should be done.
And yes, we need to talk about the dragons. Because holy crap are they just the cutest things ever.
There are so many designs for these different kinds of dragons, and O’Neill made it so that they do kind of represent the various teas that their horns produce. The Chamomile Dragon (the yellow one above) always looks a little relaxed and sleepy. The Rooibos Dragon (the red one above) looks spiky and rambunctious. The Earl Grey Dragon looks dignified and regal. And so on. To make these dragons so varied and yet still similar amongst themselves is such a great design, and it goes to show that dragons don’t always have to be big and daunting and fearsome. Though hey, I’m never going to complain about those kinds of dragons either.
“The Tea Dragon Society” was the right bit of fluff I needed in my life to give me an overdose on cuteness while building a lovely fantasy world. I can’t recommend it enough to not only children and parents, but also to people who like fantasy. Or those like me who really just need a relaxing read once in awhile. While O’Neill says that the story has concluded, I would be so pleased if someday she decides to revisit these characters and the lovely world that they live within.
Rating 9: TOO CUTE FOR WORDS!!!!! Along with that, we have a diverse cast of characters and an interesting examination of gender norms.
Find “The Tea Dragon Society” at your library using WorldCat!
Here is the website for the original webcomic for “The Tea Dragon Society”.