Summary of The Dragon of Lonely Island:
Three children, along with their mother, plan to spend the summer on Lonely Island where their elderly great-aunt Mehitabel has a home. The only current residents on this island off the mainland are Mr. and Mrs. Jones, the caretakers. Before they arrive, the children—Hannah, Zachary, and Sarah Emily—receive a short note from Aunt Mehitabel urging them to explore Drake’s Hill and to find the Tower Room. A key is included. The first morning on the island, Sarah Emily and Zachary find the intriguing Tower Room with its antique toys, books of fairy tales, and a puzzle box. Later, they enthusiastically venture out to Drake’s Hill. The smell of cinnamon and smoke permeates the air and entices them to explore a cave in the side of the hill. To their amazement, there is a tridrake (three-headed dragon) named Fafnyr living there. During each visit, one of the three dragon heads is awake. The children curl up with the mythical beast as he tells them a story. The eldest dragon head teaches Hannah about being responsible and compassionate from the experience of Mei-lan, a young girl from ancient China. The middle dragon head is awake on their second visit. He illustrates for Zachary the importance of sharing and selflessness through an orphan named Jamie who was taken captive by pirates. The youngest dragon is alert on the children’s next visit. Fearful Sarah Emily sees through the story of her young aunt Mehitabel’s (referred to as Hitty) plane crash on an island that she needs to be more resourceful and courageous. The final story also reveals how Fafnyr came to live at Lonely Island. The children inherit an important job: protector of Fafnyr’s existence. As the summer ends, the trio are reluctant to leave, but they look forward to the next summer on the island with Fafnyr and the Joneses.
The Dragon of Lonely Island is an interesting combination of fantasy and reality. This non-linear narrative moves fluidly from present to past to present by using key repetitive phrases as a flashback begins and italics during the past encounters. The majority of the setting is in the “real” world with the only fantastical element being the dragon encounters. Even the flashbacks with the dragon are historical fiction accounts where the dragon meets human children and indelibly impacts them in a positive manner. While the dragon is clearly wise from its centuries on the Earth, the flashbacks reveal that Fafnyr experienced many of the same inner conflicts as the humans. The tale is clearly instructional with lessons for the characters and readers in sharing, honesty, responsibility, courage, and resourcefulness. There is also an underlying thread about the lack of compassion and understanding of humans. For instance, in the Mei-lan story, a man shoots and injures the dragon as it benignly flies through the sky. In addition, a few remarks are made about humans taking up all the space on the planet. The narrative plays it safe. Author Rebecca Rupp uses direct presentation and popular plot conventions—summer in a large, old house, a mysterious box, and a secretive place. As a result, there is nothing profound in the plot or characterization. Nevertheless, the realistic setting with fantastical experiences and stories will appeal to many young readers who want to escape for the afternoon. I recommend this middle grade fantasy novel for children ages 8-11.