Dragonfly Song by Wendy Orr
This story takes place around 1450 BCE in Bronze Aged Crete at the time of the Minoan civilisation, which was renowned for it's worship of bulls and for the mysterious legend of the labyrinth and the Minotaur.
The main character is Aissa who is the firstborn daughter of the leader of her home island, a snake priestess, and thus should follow in her mother's footsteps. She, however, is born imperfect and is abandoned to the care of a poor farming family. She faces many trials and rejections until she is chosen to face the mighty bulls of Crete to save herself and her island.
This book has much to offer. It gives us a glimpse into a part of history which, although thousands of years old, was only discovered relatively recently. The main character, Aissa, shows enormous resilience and bravery in the face of many tragedies and difficulties that occur along the way and you are drawn into her world and fate as the book reaches it's exciting conclusion.
The book alternates between normal chapters and free verse and uses very descriptive and lyrical language which gives the book a sense of age and importance. Children who like mythical stories, a touch of fantasy, or tales of survival in the wild, are sure to appreciate Dragonfly Song. In addition, readers of any age who have experienced traumas of their own might draw comfort and wisdom from the story of Aissa.
The inhabitants of Crete were called Minoans after the legendary King Minos. The Minoans were a sport loving society although the sports were not like the ones we watch today - they were very dangerous and violent and players were often injured or even killed. We know they enjoyed watching sport as there are many wall paintings and art on vases showing sporting contests (see pictures below). Bull dancing or leaping, which Aissa was forced to participate in, did not involve killing the bull, rather it was a test of both courage and agility.
A bull would run at a jumper or line of jumpers and when it was close enough, the jumper would grab the bull’s horns and either vault onto the bull’s back or vault over the bull in a somersault and land on his or her feet on the other side of the bull – as shown in the diagram on the right. There might be a spotter at the back, as shown in the diagram below and as happened in Dragonfly Song, who would help catch the bull leaper.