The Dragon of Cripple Creek by Troy Howell I recommend this for 5th-8th grade readers.
Katlin, her father and brother, Dillon, are driving west in hopes of making it to San Francisco in time for Dad to start a new job. They were living the ideal upper class, suburban life until Katlin’s mother had an accident that has left her in a coma. Her continuing care and mounting bills have cost Dad his job and bankrupted the family.
Katlin has a serious obsession with all things gold – gold shoes, gold jewelry, golden-haired ponies. When she sees a road sign advertising the Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine in Cripple Creek, Colorado, Katlin begs her father to stop, “Can’t we do one fun thing?”
Once on a tour of the mine, Katlin follows her obsession away from the group and falls down an old shaft. And this is when she meets Ye, the last living dragon. Ye is wise, experienced and enjoys a bit of witty repartee. Kat is scared, excited (not only by all the gold lying around), and smitten with Ye.
Once Ye shows her the way out of the mine, Katlin’s mission is to keep the dragon’s existence a secret. This is, of course, nearly impossible when her disappearance – and miraculous reappearance – are the biggest thing to hit Cripple Creek since gold was discovered in 1891.
Howell spends most of the novel exploring the aspects of keeping a dragon secret from the world and he really doesn’t miss much. This is a solidly imagined bit of magical realism. He wraps things up neatly and satisfied my emotional need for Kat’s family to get everything they need in the end. On the other hand, once I met Ye, I wanted a lot more time with him! I don’t have much to criticize but I must admit that I didn’t find the book as much fun as I had hoped.