The Last Dragon, by Cheryl Rainfield (H.I.P. Books, 2009, 111 pages) is exactly the sort of book that makes me happiest. You see, I have a nine-year old who enjoys reading, but is a picky reader, one who won't read anything that he finds at all intimidating. No Harry Potter for him, yet.
So when The Last Dragon arrived at our home, and he pounced on it, and sat and read it cover to cover, emerging at the end to enthuse about it, I was very, very pleased indeed.
It's a simple story, about 16-year old boy growing up in a medieval village in a land oppressed by an evil lord and an even more evil magician. But Jacob has a gift that could overthrow the tyrants--he is the Dragon Speaker, foretold by a prophecy. He's an unlikely hero, scrawny and lame from an old injury, but with the help of his friends Orson and Lia, he must set out to rescue the egg of the last dragon, before all hope for his country is lost....
This book, and volumes 2 and 3 of the series, are specifically written to be high interest, low vocabulary, and are marketed for older readers who need encouragement, rather than nine-year olds like my son. There is nothing here, however, that is unsuitably YA for a child my son's age--there's a bit of scary stuff, but nothing nightmarish. And consequently, I'm don't think this would hold the interest of anyone, say, over 14. So I'm putting a middle-grade label on this one. The publisher, strangely enough :) , agrees with me: Reading level: 3.2 (I dunno what that means) Interest level: grades 5-10.
Because I do know for certain sure that if you have a fourth grade boy who likes fantasy, and who needs encouragement to finish a book cover to cover, this one is a winner. Rainfield's crisp sentences and nicely (in the old fashioned sense of the word) honed story are spot on. And although the plot might seem not so fresh to a reader who has read thousands of fantasies, for a child like my son this is still new and magical territory.
Books 2 and 3 of the series are out now as well, but written by other authors. You can read more about the series at the Dragon Speaker website.(Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the author)