cover image The King of Dragons

The King of Dragons

Carol Fenner. Margaret K. McElderry Books, $17 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-689-82217-9

This novel's subject matter--a boy living alone inside a vacant courthouse--is enticing enough to draw a large audience, but it is Fenner's (Randall's Wall; Yolonda's Genius) convincing portrayal of a homeless child that will hold readers' attention. Ian and his father, a shell-shocked Vietnam war veteran, have taken up residence inside the former Hall of Justice, but when the boy's father doesn't return one evening, the 11-year-old proves to be remarkably resourceful at staying warm, clean and fed, day after day, month after month. Yet even when his stomach is full, he remains hungry for human companionship. When groups of volunteer workers invade his dwelling to transform it into an art museum, Ian hides to eavesdrop on their conversations and to admire the way they convert drab chambers into bright, welcoming spaces. He is especially enthralled by the museum's main exhibit: exotic, beautifully crafted kites, including the ""king of dragons."" When the museum director (""Lady Leader"") unexpectedly returns, catching Ian offguard, he poses as a volunteer--and likes it. The people he has observed from a distance soon become his friends. Readers may find the supporting cast less convincing than the protagonist (e.g., the relationship between Lady Leader and her daughter, with whom Ian forms a close friendship, is inconsistent), but the author's meticulous descriptions of the hero's survival techniques provide insight into his hidden world: a place where meals come from grocery-store samples, school is the public library and games are played inside the imagination. Ages 9-12. (Nov.)