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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Night Sky Dragons, written by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham, and illustrated by Patrick Benson. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2014. $18.00 ages 6 and up

"Each kite had a long, long tail of black twine soaked in oil. Threaded onto these tails were slender sections of bamboo the length of Yazul's hand. "Will it work, Grandpa? Will they burn?" "Hmm," his grandfather murmured, twiddling his beard. "I'm not sure." Yazul waited anxiously while a long minute passed."

In a story that is set in medieval Mongolia, we meet Yazul. He is a young boy, the son of the remote and inflexible lord of the han. Nothing that Yazul does seems to impress his father. There is much sadness in the boy's life...he is still missing his dead mother, and he cannot seem to reach his father. He spends his day working his grandfather, a kite maker.

Together, they build and fly kites that Yazul hopes will help him let go of the sadness that accompanies his waking hours. The two work together well, talking and perfecting their kites. His father disapproves of the time spent doing what he considers work of no importance. Yazul has learned his grandfather's lessons well, building and flying kites of great beauty.

Yazul is a bit of a prankster. He likes to scare his grandfather. One day, his mischief making ends in an explosion that causes his grandmother to drop a big dish she is carrying:

"The dish was - or had been - no ordinary dish. It was the history of his people. Coiling around its edge and into the center were delicate pictures in blue and brown and white. They told the story of his ancestors. The stories of the old ones who had been swallowed up by time. Their troubles and travels, their marriages and great moments, had been painted onto the dish. Many hands whose bones were now dust had worked on it."

Yazul cannot believe that he has done such a thing, and that it cannot be mended. Yazul's father is furious. That anger brings an end to the days spent at kite-making. Work begins in earnest for him, first in the kitchen. Not long after he begins this drudgery, a caravan arrives. It is being followed by a band of hooligans who threaten the han, and cause a great deal of concern for the safety of all. The bandits show no worry about their inability to enter the enclosure, and refuse to attack. Instead, they will wait it out. Soon, the han will have no food or water, and Yazul's father will be forced to open the gates and surrender. How will they save themselves. Yazul shares a plan with his grandfather.

Will Yazul's brilliant idea work?

It's up to you to find out. This terrific tale is accompanied by pen and watercolor art that transports readers to a different place and time, with careful attention to the details of setting and dress. In an author's note we learn a bit about the Silk Road and the hans that provided safe rest for those travelling it. 

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