Billy Chan has gotten an invitation to attend Camp Dragon, a cultural and language school in China, so his parents ruin his summer of surfing in California so he can get in touch with the Chinese half of his heritage. Once there, he meets an assembly of children from around the globe and "Old Gold", the man who runs the camp. There are lessons and activities, but also a series of competitions. The children are divided into groups of four, and Billy gets put in with Charlotte, a blonde, girl from the US South who is very competitive, Dylan, who hails from Ireland, and Ling-Fei, who is from the area and well acquainted with Old Gold and his grandson, JJ. When the four fail to complete their first scavenger hunt because they are attacked by a tiger who disappears and then get caught in an earthquake, they find that when they return to camp, no one believes them! Ling-Fei realizes that during their adventure she has lost a necklace her grandmother gave her, and the group goes back to retrieve the family heirloom. They find that the earthquake seems to have split the mountain, but the reality is even more serious-- they have opened the portal between the Human Realm and the Dragon Realm! Moreover, they find four dragons who claim that they must bond with the four humans in order to gain more power to defeat the Dragon of Death and the Noxious. Clothed in suits made of dragon cloth and able to ride on their dragons Tank, Buttons, Xing and Sparks, our heroes set off to save both realms. They face all manner of challenges, and find after some triumphs that they have a nemesis all too close to home. This is the first book in a purported three books series.
I have a LOT of conversations with students about why dragons are awesome and what they are looking for in books about dragons. It's always worth having a solid collection of dragon books in middle school libraries, but especially important now that Tui Sutherland's Wings of Fire series has creative a large fan base. Dragon Mountain is tailor made for young readers who secretly want their own dragon. First of all, this begins at a school. There's a whole sub genre of fantasy books with "academies" that my students like. I love that this one is set in China (they have the best dragons!), and that the cast is multicultural. This is well paced, and moves us right along. The bonds with the personalized dragons will delight dragon fans, and cause a fair number of playground reenactments among younger reads; middle schoolers stick to fan art, and I'm sure I'll get some. It's rare that as I read through a book I think "Yep. Kids will like that. And that. And that." I wonder if the authors talked to actual young readers! Great stuff. Also, the twist at the end was fantastic..
This will be popular with readers who enjoyed Durst's Spark, Zhao's Dragon Warrior Series, Oh's The Dragon Egg Princess, Mancusi's Dragon Ops, and Halbrook's Silver Batal and the Water Dragon Races .