This is one that was on my want-to-read list this year, a fantasy from Kwame Alexander’s new imprint, Versify.
Anya and the Dragon by Sofiya Pasternack. Versify/HMH, 2019. 9780358006077
Anya’s is the only Jewish family in her little Russian village of Zmeyreka. Her grandmother fled from an Istanbul in flames years ago and thought that a small village would give them the best chance of acceptance. Still, times are hard. Anya’s father has been conscripted, and now the magistrate is saying that because they’re Jewish, they will still have to pay the usual properties, though the father’s service should waive this.
So when Anya runs into Ivan, seventh son of Ivan, and Ivan senior offers to pay her handsomely for helping them search for the dragon that’s rumored to live nearby, Anya jumps at the chance.
But though magic has been outlawed and the tsar wants to wipe out magical creatures as well, the magical creatures that Anya knows aren’t the evil beings they’re told. Their house domovoi might be temperamental, but it’s still helpful. Her Babulya tells her that fishing and crops were better when there were more dragons in the rivers, so that Anya is quite conflicted going into her new assignment.
Things only get worse when Anya and Ivan cross paths with Sigurd, a cruel northern knight bent on killing the dragon for his own dark purposes, viewing the kids as obstacles to be pushed out of the way at any cost.
The start of the book, where we meet Anya’s family (including her goat, Zvezda), some villagers, and a bunch of different magical creatures, felt a little slow to me. But things picked up quickly, and the book took some surprising and welcome twists. It’s clearly drawing on older epics, with which I am less familiar, but I still enjoyed it lots, and am looking forward to the next book in the series.
There are so many great books about dragons for the middle grade reader, including:
- Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede
- The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis
- Dragonfell by Sarah Prineas
- Dragons Beware! by Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado
- A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans by Laurence Yep
- Miss Ellicott’s School for the Magically Minded by Sage Blackwood
- Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
Other middle grade fantasies with Jewish protagonists include: