cover image The Dragon of Lonely Island

The Dragon of Lonely Island

Rebecca Rupp. Candlewick Press (MA), $16.99 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-7636-0408-0

Drawing upon standard adventure-fantasy conventions--an isolated island, a secret room, a mysterious key--first-time novelist Rupp crafts a series of genial if not altogether original stories-within-a-story. Hannah (12), Zachary (10) and Sarah Emily (eight and a half) travel with their mystery-writing mother to Great-great-aunt Mehitabel's house on an island off the coast of Maine for a summer getaway. Their dashing old aunt isn't there, but the three discover an even more fantastic character--a tridrake (three-headed dragon) living hidden in a cave. Each of the three heads awakens to tell a story about a child that befriended it in the past. Their stories teach the siblings needed lessons: Hannah comes to accept the responsibilities that come with being eldest by hearing about the travails of underappreciated Mei-lan in ancient China; Zachary learns the value of sharing through the tale of a 19th-century London orphan captured by pirates; and meek Sarah Emily finds gumption after discovering that the once timid Hitty, who learns self-reliance after she, her brother and their father crash-land during an attempt to fly around the world, is in fact Mehitabel. None of the stories is particularly memorable (especially not Mei-lan's, which draws upon one too many hackneyed folktale stereotypes), and the narrative frame, which strives for a classic timelessness, can feel overly tame or quaint. A modest diversion for middle-grade fantasy fans. Ages 8-11. (Oct.)