KAREN FOXLEE’s latest novel, Dragon Skin, crosses over between children’s and young adult fiction. As AKINA HANSEN writes, it’s a moving story about survival, loss and love.
Over the course of history, dragons have been characterised as ferocious mythical creatures, with an abundance of teeth, scales and fire. We often see them described in myths and legends as monsters that haunt old castles and hoard mounds of jewels and gold.
Yet in Karen Foxlee’s beautiful new novel for children, Dragon Skin, we see a vulnerable side to the creature. When her character Pip goes down to a local waterhole to escape the turbulence of home, she finds an injured baby dragon.
Through sheer determination and creativity, Pip nurtures the dragon back to health using ‘some mushed-up arrowroot biscuits and a syringe’. Karen tells me, ‘It flips that recurrent dragon theme about a girl needing to be rescued from a dragon. Pip needs to rescue the dragon and she becomes brave enough to save herself through that process.’
We learn that Pip is struggling with the loss of her best friend, Mika, and a stressful environment at home due to her mother’s new boyfriend. The novel deals with mature themes such as domestic issues and grief. Karen highlights the importance of discussing your feelings particularly when it pertains to sadness. ‘Sometimes when you are grieving you feel like you are the only person in the world doing it but that’s not the case. I think it’s important to find someone to talk to, either a friend, family or professionally.’
In Karen’s experience, writing down her thoughts has been incredibly helpful has helped me throughout my life to deal with sadness and worries.’
Dragon Skin is inspired by the mining town Karen grew up in. She recalls the ‘relentless heat and the endless blue skies’ that dominated the landscape. When she began writing this story, she says, ‘I was thinking a lot about the place where I grew up, Mount Isa, way out in the middle of nowhere in far northwest Queensland.’ Her hometown ultimately shaped the setting in Dragon Skin. Many of the scenes between Pip and Mika are reminiscent of her own childhood memories. Much time was ‘spent exploring with my brother and friends along the dry Leichhardt River and climbing spinifex covered hills.’
Dragon Skin is a touching story about conquering your fears, love and survival. Pip ultimately funnels a lot of her energy and effort into saving the dragon. Karen says, ‘And as a result some of that ferocity and strength (that we normally associate with dragons) is actually entering into her’.This process ultimately allows Pip to gain ‘the strength to save herself and her mother’.