Guest Blogger Post: KING AND THE DRAGONFLIES
KING AND THE DRAGONFLIES explores the question of what makes a man, a man. It examines how adults answer this question and the deep impacts it can have on the young men that are listening. How the consequences of that answer can be internalized and the harm will last far past when we are gone.
The story begins with Kingston James, King for short, having to deal with the sudden and traumatic death of his 17 year old all-star older brother Khalid. There are various ways that Callender analyzes grief; from the way that King is visited by Khalid in his dreams and believes his older brother lives on as a dragonfly to the way that King’s parents shut down when they learn about the death of their child, but also feel it necessary for their younger child to continue living despite their grief.
Other ways Callender illustrates grief are more subtle. Grief can also reside in the conversations that we have and the words, both said and unsaid, the dead leave behind and their impact on the living. Through the introduction of King’s ex-best friend Sandy Sanderson, we learn that good intentions do not always stop the hurt that certain words cause. When Khalid overheard a private conversation between Sandy and King in which they talked about their sexuality, the result was that one of the last things Khalid told King to do before he died was to abandon his best friend out of fear. When King does this, not only abandoning his friend, but internalizing the idea that there would be something wrong with his peers thinking he was gay, he is met with the added grief of losing his brother, but also best friend when they needed each other the most.
Healing for King comes in the form of helping his friend face his own issues with homophobia and abuse, but coming to the understanding that he can love his brother, honor his memory, despite being hurt and disappointed in his brother’s decisions and finally accepting that some conversations weren’t ever going to happen, not even in dreams.
I not only think that KING AND THE DRAGONFLIES fits with the criteria of the Newberry for its portrayal of grief, but also its vital nuanced conversation about questioning one’s sexuality.
I could not talk about this book without also mentioning the phenomenal narration of Ron Butler on the audiobook. The combination of his voice and Callender’s words brought this story to life and I felt like I was right alongside King for his journey, and yes, it did involve some tears.
Guest Blogger Lynette is an Army veteran, mother of two, and works in a library in Coastal Georgia. When she’s not at the library she is with her kids and either reading or thinking about the next thing to read.
About Steven Engelfried
Steven Engelfried was the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon until he retired in 2022 after 35 years as a full-time librarian. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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