Knudsen, M. (2009). The Dragon of Trelian. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.
Calen, a mage’s apprentice, befriends the witty and tough Princess Meg of Trelian just when her older sister is marrying the prince of Kragnir to make peace after a century of war. Meg, without thinking, decides to let Calen in on a HUGE secret--a secret that has scales and will soon learn to fly and breath fire. As the two young teens form a friendship around keeping their secret, Meg learns that she has a special link with the young dragon, Jakl. She cannot leave the dragon alone, but fears what will happen if the dragon comes to close to the Trelian castle or eats a farmer's cattle. Making all of this tension worse, a strange giant creature has attacked several guards on the castle grounds. From there, the problems and betrayals only get bigger.
The Dragon of Trelian switches back and forth between Calen and Meg's points of view, considering Calen's work as a studying mage and Meg's concerns over growing older, falling in love for the first time and having her older sister leave her after Maerlie's approaching wedding. (In fact, this emphasis on Meg's first romance and her strange connection to a Jakl could allow a parent to discuss healthy relationships, if such a talk were necessary)
While it may take some time to ease into this book The Dragon of Trelian includes a lot of gentle humor before the drama really begins around page 115. Beyond that, my one critique are the character names. I feel like for most of the book, Knudsen was having too much fun with syllables and alternate spellings. I caught myself thinking "where'd that name come from?" or "which of Meg's sisters is which? All their names start with M's," more often than I would like.
Ten bucks says there will be a sequel.
Activities to do with the book:
A teacher could draw parallels between this fantasy and history to accommodate how countries create alliances or trigger wars with the assassination of a single person. Another option would be to compare this fantasy to others that the students had read or viewed.
A teacher could also direct a conversation to (or consider for their own teaching process ) the teaching methods Serek, the mage, uses to teach his apprentice Calen magic. Are his methods good? Why or why not? How can a teacher best help their individual students?
Since several monsters and places are described, students could create detailed illustrations or models of what they envision those creatures or places look like.
There are also scenes in which herbs are used for medicinal purposes. In response groups could research various flora and how and when they were discovered to help with various maladies.
“Calen tried not to look down. This was the best vantage point in the east wing of the castle—a thick window ledge that looked out over both the main gate and a good bit of the Queen’s Road beyond. It was by no means the highest point in the castle, but it was still a good deal higher than Calen normally preferred to go. Climbing up to sit on the ledge had taken all his courage. He couldn’t help imagining what it would be like to fall, screaming in terror and watching the shaped hedges rush up at him from below until he hit the ground and died a horrible and painful death” (p. 1).
“Technically, he hadn’t exactly disobeyed. Serek had only implied that Calen should return directly; he hadn’t actually said it. Not that this distinction would hold much weight with Serek, but it was enough to soothe Calen’s conscience. Besides, it wasn’t like there was anything to rush back for. Calen thought back to the argument they’d had earlier. Well, argument wasn’t really the right word. Mostly it had been Serek making pointed comments about how lazy Calen was and glaring at him whenever he opened his mouth to defend himself” (p. 3).
"They walked in silence for a while, but Meg's mind was anything but quiet. Was this a comfortable silence? Or an awkward silence? How did one tell these things? Should she say something? She should say something. But she couldn't think of anything to say" (pp. 62-63).
"One of the worst parts of being a mage, he often thought, must be having to spend so much time cooped up in a dark study. As an apprentice, at least he got to travel to the market once a week and run occasional errands outside the castle, but most of the business of magic itself seemed to require darkness and dust and shadows. He couldn't even remember the last time he'd seen Serek [the mage] outside in the daytime. No wonder the man was always in such a foul mood" (p. 73).
"Yesterday he had been alone, and not particularly happy with his lot.
Today he had a friend and a secret. And a spark" (p. 122).