King of the Dragonflies

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Twelve-year-old Kingston James is sure his brother Khalid has turned into a dragonfly. When Khalid unexpectedly passed away, he shed what was his first skin for another to live down by the bayou in their small Louisiana town. Khalid still visits in dreams, and King must keep these secrets to himself as he watches grief transform his family.

It would be easier if King could talk with his best friend, Sandy Sanders. But just days before he died, Khalid told King to end their friendship, after overhearing a secret about Sandy - that he thinks he might be gay. "You don't want anyone to think you're gay too, do you?"

But when Sandy goes missing, sparking a town-wide search, and King finds his former best friend hiding in a tent in his backyard, he agrees to help Sandy escape from his abusive father, and the two begin an adventure as they build their own private paradise down by the bayou and among the dragonflies. As King's friendship with Sandy is reignited, he's forced to confront questions about himself and the reality of his brother's death.---from the publisher

272 pages                          978-1338129335                      Ages 9-13

Keywords:  grief, loss, friends, friendship, acceptance, accepting others, coming out, gay and lesbian, LGBTQ, death, brothers, family, self acceptance, fears, self respect, self esteem, prejudice, discrimination, racism, Caribbean author, 9 year old, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old, 13 year old


"There will come a time when everybody

Who is lonely will be free

To sing and dance and love.

There will come a time when every evil

That we know will be an evil

That we can rise above.”

-- Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention (1968)

“I want to say that no one hates him, but I know it’s not true. I think about the way Camille and Darrell talk about Sandy. I know half the school whispers the same things. No one will sit with him or talk to him, except Jasmine.

Sandy’s right. ‘I’m sorry,’ I say again, louder this time.

I hear my name being shouted. My mom’s calling for me. There’s fear in her voice. Sandy and I both look up at the tent opening like we expect the zipper to magically undo itself and reveal the two of us and our secret to the entire world. My mom shouts my name again

‘I should go,’ I tell Sandy. I get up on my knees and reach for the zipper.

‘I’ll leave,’ he tells me. ‘I’ll find a new hiding spot, so---’ He hesitates, and I think he might be trying to say something like so you don’t have to deal with me anymore. I interrupt him before he can.

‘No,’ I say. ‘Stay.’

He frowns a little, and I have no idea what he’s thinking.

‘Please,’ I tell him. ‘Just stay here. Where else are you going to go?’

He can’t go back home. Even if he won’t tell me what happened, I know that those bruises and that cut on his mouth didn’t just appear out of nowhere. Jasmine and I have noticed the yellow and green bruises on Sandy’s arms before. Jasmine whispered to me once that she thinks Sandy’s dad might be abusive. She said that she wanted to tell a teacher, but she was afraid Sandy would be mad at her.

Sandy shakes his head. ‘I can find another place to hide.’

‘You’ll just get caught.’

He looks up at me through his lashes, a little shyly. ‘You promise you’re not going to tell no one?’

‘I shake my head. ‘Nope. And I’ll keep bringing you food. I can sneak you in the house so you can take a shower. You’ll be safe here.’

We don’t say anything about how he can’t stay here forever. How he might be safe for now, but he might not be safe for much longer. We decide to shake on it, like my dad says proper men in Louisiana agree on things, and that’s that.”

Twelve year-olds Charles “Sandy” Sanders, who is white, and Kingston “King” James, who is black, had been close friends. They trusted and confided in one another, and enjoyed one another’s company. This, despite Sandy’s grandfather being a Ku Klux Klan member, his big brother being at odds with King’s big brother, and Sandy’s father being the local sheriff.

But after King’s beloved brother Khalid overheard Sandy telling King that Sandy is gay, Khalid had demanded that King stay away from Sandy. Otherwise, he told King, people will think that King is gay, too. Which King is coming to realize he actually is.

King had dutifully heeded his big brother’s warning, despite the pain it caused him. He told Sandy they could no longer be friends. Shortly thereafter, Khalid inexplicably died while playing soccer. This left King, at such a pivotal moment in his young life, without either his brother or his best friend.

King found it agonizing to be in the bedroom that he and Khalid had shared. He made a habit of sleeping in a tent in the backyard. The same tent where Sandy and King had shared their secrets with one another. The tent where Sandy first takes refuge when he “disappears” after one of his father’s brutal beatings.

Once again having Sandy at close range, King must figure out what is really right.

There is such power and innocence in this coming-of-age story. Absolutely beautiful writing. You can feel, smell, and taste the bayou country setting. You repeatedly delve into King’s innermost thoughts.

There is so much depth and complexity in this notable, moving, and memorable tale that is pitch perfect for upper elementary readers.

Recommended by: Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA

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Twelve-year old King is used to having an older brother, Khalid, in the bed above him and that brother had a lot of answers to King's questions. During the night Khalid would talk in his sleep and he would describe a world King couldn't imagine and he would tell King miraculous truth.

Then, the day came when Khalid dropped dead on the soccer field. King lost his brother that day. He lost a lot of his parents that day too. The family is grieving. They still eat and they still sleep but it's not the same. There is an emptiness in the house and empty place in each of their lives.

Now King is facing grief,  middle school, girls, his feelings about his friend,Sandy, and the knowledge that Sandy may not be safe in his own home.

How does a guy figure all this out?  How does a guy tell his parents something he is sure they don't want to hear?  How does a guy accept something about himself he has been afraid to acknowledge?

This is a tender story of accepting yourself and loving yourself and finding out you can be loved for exactly who you are.  It's also a tender story about friends and finding out the world they live in may not accept them and may not want to love them for exactly who they are.

It's a story about loss and fear and hope and happiness.  Told so exquisitely you can hear the buzz of the wings on those dragonflies.

Recommended by:  Barb Langridge,

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