This story has everything:
A boy who turns into a dragon… and back again.
The longest most boring train ride ever.
Bully boys, making stuff and a near disaster on the river
There’s even magic, 2 court cases, a plane ride and a song
Join the Drakko family, the nasty Purkisses, teacher Hippoltya Scythe, singer Solange Luna and Percy the phenomenal child artist, along with Gallo the superhero dragon!
This was the premise for a fantastical tale. There are dragons, theatre performances, and a mostly desolate island.
This would be a decent enough read for earlier readers, but, I don’t think MG level readers will find it entertaining enough.
Saunders tackles a story and delivers a work of heart.
The Drakko family is close and the dragon is an unexpectedly helpful ally.
Overall this wasn’t the book for me, as my reader had just outgrown this story but I think it would be a fun read for parents to read to children or for learning readers trying to dip into chapter books. I think that to read this aloud with the family would be the perfect way to enjoy this.
The illustrations were adorable and delightful to come across.
Thank you to Random Things Tours and the Publisher for a copy for this in exchange for my honest opinion.
Author’s Thoughts & Background for Dragon River
I’d always wanted to write…
I’d thought for a while that I would like to write a story that involved people who made things. Not in any way about the details of making but a story that involved them. I came to realise though, that my problem solving/making brain used up too much time and energy to start writing. I also found out that writing takes more focus and effort than I’d realised or appreciated. So it was only when I had to take some time out from my professional work that I began to think seriously about the story more and actually get writing it.
I was inspired by legend and lore…
Having sculpted a dragon as a roof decoration I began to wonder if a Dragon could be part of the story. I was planning at the time to write a short novel for the 8-13 age group so I researched some dragon stories. One I came across was from ancient China, generally called the Boy and the Pearl and my rewriting of the tale became the first chapter of my book Dragon River. I involved a family surnamed Drako – It’s Esperanto for Dragon and sounded as if it could belong anywhere. The mother and father I named Sebille and Lancelot and their two twin children, Gal -short for Galahad – and Sally. The first three names are from Arthurian legend, I liked the hint that this was to be some kind of allegory. I had a back story to Sally, I imagined her as a forthright young child, initially called Guinevere, who took against having it shortened to Gwinny, and firmly told her mother that she was now called Sally, and it stuck.
Setting the scene…
I set this first chapter in an idyllic small remote town called Brilliana. This relates to a history of the English civil war which includes the story of Brilliana Hartley. An unusual name, a strong independent woman, and a good name for a town. Early on I felt Brilliana could be anywhere and restricted it to only having electricity as power. This was supplied by a hydroelectric power plant powered by the river coming from the mountains above the town. I named this the Dragon River and realised it was a good title for the book..
Migration and the maker…
As the first chapter finishes, there have been problems and the story moves on to having a theme of migration, and as in many stories, a family member leaves to find work. This involves a long journey to the city of Daydon where Lancelot’s skills in making quickly gain his work. This is one of the useful factors of having making skills …..if you have the knowledge you can work anywhere, as long as someone wants what you make. The buyer doesn’t need or want to know who you are, where you came from or what language you speak; they just want the objects you’ve created.
The book continues with a migration story, as the family starts to establish themselves in the city of Daydon. This involves an episode of bullying and the difficulties of assimilating. Their creative skills help them through this and at times of jeopardy, their talismanic dragon Gallo is on hand. They have problems with the local bureaucracy and we meet the Purkisses, fellow immigrants, corruptly buying themselves into a position of authority. Their humourless philistine thinking causes upset and annoyance.
Huffel and bustle…
The Drakos establish themselves as successful makers for the theatres of the city. Writing about what I know is central to this. My own skills led me to establish Applied Arts in London that has a reputation for creating 3-dimensional creative work for Uk and international theatre and television. They set up a studio on the island of Huffel connected to the city via a single bridge. I established Huffel to signify how artists, designers and makers are somehow separate and also need a secure place to prosper. At the centre of Huffel is Supply st., where anything needed for their work can be bought, and the University where art engineering and other skills and techniques are taught. Huffel Island is my dream place to work.
The closest I got to it was the time I spent in the Clerkenwell workshops in London which was full of crafts and trades, from garment makers, braid makers, model makers, carpenters, woodturners, jewellers, metal polishers, antique restorers and more.
Breaking with conventions…
When Sally unexpectedly becomes the guardian for an abandoned child she has to get back to Brilliana in a rush and here I had a dilemma as there was only the long train ride to get there. So I broke my self imposed rule that only electric power was available and decided she could fly. I imposed a rule that the small plane was only allowed to fly with a full roster of passengers.
A magical tale for unprecedented times…
One day I hope to be able to write a song. Lancelot discovers he can and is encouraged by the singer Solange Luna this leads to the staging of a successful musical called inevitably I suppose ‘Dragon River’ and the story ends. The best entertainment engages us, helps us think about life and get through difficult times. Gallo the dragon, the saviour in the story becomes a puppet in the show.
My final thoughts…
Once I’d finished writing the manuscript I began to consider some illustrations. I knew the story needed them to bring out the characters more and give some sense of place. My own drawing skills aren’t up to the task. I can draw but for me, it’s a stage in the production of 3-dimensional work. I looked online at various illustrators’ work but then remembered Gillian Martin. I’d worked with her before on a project about a character called Blacksmith Bill for a television series. Although there was interest from the BBC it didn’t materialise and we lost touch. I did remember her uncanny ability to bring characters to life. I tracked her down, she was pleased to get involved so I sent her the manuscript and a while later got the first sketch back. It was of Sally and Gal in Brilliana. It was exactly in the style I’d imagined for the book. We discussed the characters and Gillian made alterations. For example, I wanted Sebille to look more interesting, and having always thought that the book was set somewhere in the middle east she became as we see her now. After several months of drawing, reviewing and, with alterations made, the illustrations were finished and so enhanced the text I made the decision to go ahead with publishing the book.
The Rest of the Tour