Jane Yolen is the Tom Brady of Children’s Literature. She’s been in the league forever, has won tons of trophies, and is great at everything. EVERYTHING. So it should come as no surprise that her re-released graphic novel for tweens and young teens, The Last Dragon, is absorbing, surprising, stereotype-crushing, and beautifully told. The art, by Rebecca Guay, is stunning, almost classical, and gives great depth and an artistic quality to the story.
Look at this spread, which occurs two-thirds of the way through the story:
The entire town is working together to build a giant kite to use in killing a dragon.
My only complaint about this story is that the panel design is not always used to full advantage, as the spread above demonstrates. With the illustration reaching across the page, the reader would normally read the upper spread all the way across, then come down to read all the lower panels from left to right. But the captions on each page lead to the lower panels on that page, so it’s a little confusing. But that’s a minor detail, with art this delicious.
The lush artwork lends a fairy tale quality to the tale, but don’t be fooled — Yolen is never one to follow conventions. And indeed, the last dragon of The Last Dragon is not a heroic, noble creature that feeds on moonlight (a la Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke). Oh no, this dragon, which hatches a full two hundred years after the last dragon was defeated in Ingeland, is fierce and feeds on living flesh — both beast and human.
Once the villagers realize their missing sheep and loved ones have been devoured by a dragon, they set out to find a hero. They are almost in despair when they finally find a hero to come and save them. In typical Yolan style, this hero is not without fear, but works with what he has to come up with a plan.
And what he has is a girl.
Early in the story we meet three sisters, daughters of a healer who becomes the dragon’s first human victim. One of the daughters is a sensible hard-working weaver; another a beautiful dreamer who only speaks of a lover traveling to her from across the sea; the third, Tansy, is a clever healer-in-training who becomes the real hero of the story.
I will not give away the ending to this enjoyable story, but I will say that it involves kites. And a plant that blisters your skin if you touch it. And a kiss. With its beautifully painted art, this is a tale that can be enjoyed by a wide range of ages, but the fairy tale quality and romance interwoven with the action will make it appeal to young teens.