Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve
The multi-talented Anh Do has introduced a new series of books with the alluring title Sky Dragon. It follows the success of his Wolf Girl and Mythix. Sky Dragon tells of an eight-year-old girl, Amber Autumn, who suffers the loss of her family, her home destroyed and being scarred by the fire.
At school, she is bullied. So, sad and depressed, she retreats to a solitary life living with insects.
Amber is able to identify species of dragonflies, bees and beetles, therefore it is not surprising that she gains control over insects and, purely as an act of will, directs them.
The book begins with the horrific event when her home is struck by a meteor. She is helping her mother to prepare a pizza as her father and brother are on their way back from fireman duties. A massive purple meteor hurtles into their house and demolishes it. Parents perish and Reggie, her brother, is in a coma. Amber is hospitalised with burns.
Her neighbour, kindly Irene, adopts her care, and she eventually goes to her High School. A group of mean girls taunts her. A boy, Justin, befriends her and they share a love of entomology.
Amber discovers her powers when she prevents herself and Justin being stung, perhaps killed, by a swarm of deadly hornets.
Years pass as the book progresses with episodes such as the school dance, then her eventual retreat from unhappy school life and her home with Irene. This leads to contentment, free of responsibility, the school bullies and society judging her looks scarred by the fire.
She steals from the town Woodville’s Supermarket to supplement the food she gathers in the woods.
Her Sky Dragon mask, to obscure her identity when she’s in town, is fashioned from termite carved iron bark and decorated with reflecting dragonfly wings. She adapts countless beetles to form a dragon shape which powers her flight. Locusts cover security cameras when she is in the supermarket.
Meanwhile, after six years in a coma, Reggie recovers. He, too, has special powers. Fire and water spray forcefully from his hands and sides. The Government employs him to fight fires and catch criminals.
The final pages are an action-packed duel between Fire Fighting Reggie and Sky Dragon. The drama is unresolved with Amber noticing Reggie’s familiar scar and wondering about this coincidence. At the same time, he is beginning to be suspicious of Government Agent Ferris, who has been his boss. TO BE CONTINUED comes on the last page….
Sky Dragon touches many topics then concludes with the action-packed finale. There is the loss of parents, dealing with catastrophe, being a target for bullies and living with a disfigurement. To deal with all these issues, Amber is given an unrealistic scenario. The plot is pure escapism and in a world blighted by the extinction of myriad species, where it is impossible today to find even a handful of beetles, her new life is truly imaginative.
More importantly, the parental tragedy and destruction of a home is frightening. Sensitive and highly imaginative readers would find this book confronting, to say the least. The underlying message of a girl who is empowered and refuses to be a victim, while dealt with on this fantasy level, is a positive.
Sky Dragon is easy to read, liberally illustrated, not by the author, but by James Hart. It has Anh Do’s characteristic zest and enthusiasm. As mentioned above, it won’t appeal to some; parents and teachers should be aware of the need to support and discuss the important real-life situations portrayed here.
By Anh Do and illustrated by James Hart
Allen and Unwin
ISBN 9 781760 876364