THREE WORDS: Moving, Smart, Thought-ProvokingMY REVIEW: Natalie Dias Lorenzi’s Flying the Dragon was such an unexpected treat. This middle grade novel captivated me from beginning to end and touched me deeply.Different worlds collide when two cousins from different countries learn to work together and just maybe learn from one another. American born and raised Skye knows very little of her Japanese heritage and Japanese born and raised Hiroshi knows very little about American culture. But when Hiroshi, his parents and grandfather move to the US, both Skye and Hiroshi experience culture shock. Skye is forced to go to Japanese lessons and may miss out on playing on the coveted All-Star soccer team, while Hiroshi must miss his long awaited chance to compete in the rokkaka kite fighting contest. But when tragedy strikes and the two kids have a chance to compete in a rokkaka event in Washington the two must band together.Lorenzi’s contemporary MG read is a wonderfully written exploration of family, love, tradition and growing up. Full of insightful life lessons, lovely characters and profound moments, this book easily held my attention and left me thoughtful.This is a quick, yet very engaging read. Lorenzi has created a layered and smart story. The author has clearly spent a great deal of time researching the Japanese culture and language and this shines through throughout the book. I didn’t just enjoy reading about Skye and Hiroshi, I also greatly enjoyed reading about the Japanese culture. Younger readers will definitely learn a great deal (and not even realize it!) and hopefully walk away with a fascination for new cultures.The experiences of both Skye and Hiroshi have been crafted with great care and their stories have been brought to life so beautifully through Lorenzi’s words. From the language barriers to extreme cultural clashes and sometimes hurtful cousin rivalry, there’s a very honest and realistic quality to their relationship. Lorenzi does a great job of exploring Hiroshi’s difficult and overwhelming experience of being plopped into a whole new cultural environment, while Skye’s own confusing journey toward discovering how to be both American, soccer playing Skye and proud Japanese Sorano is very thought-provoking and relatable. Lorenzi also does a superb job of laying out very vivid settings. Some of my favorite scenes are the kite flying scenes in the park and the exciting rokkaka competition. And speaking of the rokkaka contest, I didn’t even know this was a real thing, but now I have such a desire to build and fly my own kite!Both Skye and Hiroshi are likable and relatable young characters. Despite their differences, these cousins both have such witty, determined and compassionate personalities. I really loved getting to know them as individuals and as a team. I greatly enjoyed watching their friendship grow and watching them overcome so many obstacles. They’re both such inspiring characters!Because this is a contemporary, the story can move a little slow and lacks any big thrills, but I think older MG readers will easily fall into Skye and Hiroshi’s story and quickly become attached to these two characters (like I did!).FINAL THOUGHTS: Smartly and thoughtfully written, Flying the Dragon is a wonderful read that will inspire and captivate readers! This is would make an awesome read aloud book for parents and children to share.