“It’s just how we’ve always done it–everyone loves them, and everyone shares the tea. And the pain of looking after them” — Rinn, The Tea Dragon Festival, p. 35.
|Environmental Themes and Issues||Endangered Species, Hybridity, Hostile Environment, Anthropomorphism|
|Protagonist’s Identity||Rinn: Brown skinned and non-binary protagonist |
The comic also includes a multi-racial cast of characters, hybrid animal/human characters, a queer couple, and a deaf character who uses American Sign Language
|Protagonist’s Level of Environmental Agency||Level 3: Moderate, Plot-Driven Environmental Agency|
|Target Audience||Middle Grade (8 to 12 years)|
|Settings||Rural fantasy setting|
The Tea Dragon Festival takes place decades before the events of The Tea Dragon Society in the rural mountain village of Silverleaf. Protagonist Rinn, a non-binary character who uses they/them pronouns, dreams of becoming a cooking apprentice. One day, Rinn and their Tea Dragon venture into the forest surrounding the village to gather wild plants for their neighbors in preparation for the annual Tea Dragon Festival. This event celebrates the small, tea-leaf-producing dragons that the village collectively cares for and which appear in more plentiful numbers than they do in The Tea Dragon Society. As they forage, Rinn and the Tea Dragon discover an abandoned cottage in the woods. Inside, Aedhan, a much larger dragon tasked with protecting Silverleaf, is trapped in an enchanted sleep. He wakes up when Rinn enters the cottage, transforming into a talking humanoid figure, and discovers to his dismay that he has accidentally slept for eighty years.
Erik, Rinn’s uncle, and his bounty-hunting partner Hesekiel–younger versions of the characters who first appeared in The Tea Dragon Society–arrive in the village to celebrate the festival and track down a mysterious forest spirit rumored to live outside the village. The group speculates that Aedhan may have fallen victim to the forest spirit, which puts anyone who encounters it into a deep sleep. While Erik and Hesekiel attempt to track down the forest spirit, Aedhan spends time in the village with Rinn, shifting back and forth between his human and dragon forms. Aedhan gets injured in dragon form while protecting Rinn and their sister Aya from a monstrous “eaglefang” bird. Later, Rinn flies on his back to reach rare plants on a high mountain. During this journey, Aedhan teaches them more about dragons. Clearly reflecting on their own non-binary identity, Rinn asks, “And what about male and female forms, can dragons shift between those too?” Aedhan answers, “Certainly, if you learn how. I know a number of dragons who like to move freely back and forth” (O’Neill 82).
As the day of the Tea Dragon Festival approaches, Erik and Hesekiel finally track down the forest spirit, a sheep-like creature covered with flowers. The creature puts them to sleep and makes them dream of the ancient forest. Waking, Erik explain the harm that the well-intentioned spirit has accidentally inflicted on Aedhan and humans, saying, “I know you want to share the memory of your beautiful forest with people, but a few hours of dreaming would be enough. I’m sure you never meant to make people sad, did you?” (O’Neill 97). Looking chagrined, the spirit leaves, and Erik and Hesekiel decide not to pursue it to claim the bounty. The comic concludes with the characters celebrating the Tea Dragons at the festival. Rinn reveals that they have collected tea leaves from all of the Tea Dragons, allowing them to brew a tea for Aedhan that will let him experience hundreds of years of memories from the village and make up for the years he has slept. Lesa, the village’s head cook, invites Rinn to be her apprentice, but they decline and announce that their true talent is harvesting plants for the village. Hesekiel and Erik set off again in pursuit of another bounty, resolving that they will return to the village someday to retire.
Like The Tea Dragon Society, this comic promotes community, living in harmony with nature, and tending animals and plants, even though the villagers affectionately refer to the Tea Dragons as pests. Overall, the comic portrays the environment as friendly and whimsical. The eaglefang is the only truly dangerous and hostile creature to appear in the narrative. O’Neill includes a diverse cast of characters, including characters with different skin colors; the non-binary protagonist Rinn; anthropomorphic characters, such as a clothed bird; the queer couple Hesekiel and Erik, and the deaf woman Lesa, who speaks in American Sign Language.
The Tea Dragon Festival is the second book in K. O’Neill’s The Tea Dragon trilogy, preceded by The Tea Dragon Society (2017) and followed by The Tea Dragon Tapestry (2021).
Like The Tea Dragon Society, this comic includes paratextual excerpts from “The Alpine Tea Dragon Handbook,” which profiles the different Tea Dragon species portrayed in the primary narrative. Additionally, O’Neill includes “A Note about Tea Dragons & Dragons,” which outlines some of the differences between Dragons like Aedhan and the Tea Dragons and notes that the latter species descends from a type of wild dragon that “is now found only in rare numbers” (O’Neill Backmatter). Finally, “More Resources about Sign Language” provides a list of links for young readers interested in learning more about the deaf community and ASL.