King and the Dragonflies

Book review by
Mandie Caroll, Common Sense Media
King and the Dragonflies Book Poster Image
Beautifully told coming-of-age tale full of grief and hope.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Instances of racism and homophobia teach readers unfamiliar with either about real-world experiences of black and gay young people.

Positive Messages

There's no wrong way to be yourself. Seek out friendships and relationships with people who understand you and love you for all that you are. Some people will surprise you with acceptance and love when they find out you aren't who they thought you were. Life can get really, really hard. Unfair and terrible things may happen. But with time, and loving support, it will get better.

Positive Role Models

Seventh-grader King is mourning the recent death of his beloved older brother. He struggles with sadness, his identity, and the fear of losing his friends and parents if he tells the truth about himself. He sometimes makes hurtful choices, for which he eventually seeks to make amends. King's friend Sandy shows King how to have courage even when he's afraid, and King's friend Jasmine is thoughtful and forgiving. In terms of representation, King and his family are Black, as is Jasmine. Sandy and his family are White. Two characters identify as gay.


The murder of a Black man by four White teens, including Sandy's older brother Mikey, is referenced a few times. The victim was beaten and dragged through the bayous tied to the back of a pickup truck. That is as graphic a description as it gets. There's some of scary tension when King interacts with Mikey (and later, with Sandy and Mikey's father), but the threat of racial violence is implied, and no harm comes to King.


Hand holding and cheek-kisses between opposite-gender middle-school-age teens.


The names of various anime series are mentioned on occasion.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Mikey Sanders, who's about 17 years old, is seen smoking or smells like cigarette smoke on two occasions.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Kacen Callendar's King and the Dragonflies won a 2021 Coretta Scott King Author Honor. It tells the story of King, a studious seventh-grader who's mourning the recent death of his treasured older brother, Khalid, while also navigating normal teenage "stuff" -- like parents who don't get him, racial and sexual identity, and friendship troubles. And then, his former friend Sandy disappears, plunging King into a situation that threatens to reveal secrets and destroy relationships all across town. A father physically abuses his gay son. A violent, racist murder is referred to: Four White teens beat then tied a Black man to the back of a pickup truck and drug him around the bayou until he was dead. The owner of the truck is Sandy's older brother, Mikey, so interactions between King and Mikey carry a lot of scary tension, though no violence occurs. Mild sexual content includes hand-holding and cheek-kissing. No language concerns.  

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What's the story?

We first meet 12-year-old King in KING AND THE DRAGONFLIES as he walks to the bayou in his small Louisiana town after school to sit among the dragonflies. King believes his 16-year-old older brother, Khalid, who recenlty died, came back as a dragonfly, and he goes to seek him out at the bayou. Instead, King's former friend Sandy shows up. King ended their friendship at his then-alive brother's urging. Khalid had overheard Sandy say he was gay, and he didn't want people to think King was gay, too. Though Sandy and King's interaction at the bayou resolves nothing, when Sandy runs away from his abusive father that night, he escapes to King's backyard and the tent they used to hang out in. King finds him by chance and agrees to help him stay hidden. This involves risks and rewards that neither can fully anticipate, and threatens to destroy all the relationships King holds dear.

Is it any good?

This enchanting and unforgettable book pulls readers in from the first page. Kacen Callendar's writing in King and the Dragonflies is lush and lyrical, a joy to read solely for the beauty of the sentences. Especially when King remembers his brother, the text takes on a magical feel that magnifies King's grief for the reader. Young people will appreciate the inclusion of queer characters who take different paths to coming to terms with being gay and the insightful portrayal of the intersections of race and sexuality. Callender portrays King's family with a noteworthy sensitivity. They have problems -- namely, the crushing grief of Khalid's death, King's father's homophobia and sexism, and King's mother's acceptance of those things --but it's clear that this is a family that can heal and grow together.

There are several sob-worthy passages, though ultimately this is a deeply hopeful and inspiring tale that will leave readers smiling, even if it's through happy tears. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the racism and homophobia discussed in King and the Dragonflies. How are they similar? How are they different? Some of the characters are against racism and yet also express anti-gay sentiments. How does this change over the course of the story?  


  • How does King deal with his grief over losing Khalid? How do his parents cope? What is the turning point in this family's journey with grief? Which characters are critical to the healing King's family experiences? Who are the people in your life who can help you with big sadness and loss?

  • Would you call King and theDragonflies a hopeful story? Why or why not? Is it important to have hope that things will get better? 

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love stories of grief and coming-of-age stories

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