Wednesday, June 09, 2010


THE NIGHT FAIRY by Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrated by Angela Barrett (Candlewick, 2010)
On the night of Flory's peril, she was less than three months old.  It was a windy night: cool and sweet with springtime.  Flory was coasting on the breeze, letting it toss her wherever it liked.  She was still very tiny--as tall as an acorn--and her green wings glittered in the moonlight.  A little brown bat swooped down upon her, caught her, and crunched up her wings.

Flory cried out...If she had been a hundred years old she could have cast a spell to make her wings grow back in an instant.  But the cry that came from her was no spell at all, only a sound of pain and loss.

The little bat, realizing his mistake, opened his mouth and spat.  He stammered, "So sorry!" but Flory did not hear...she was falling through the night, spinning like a maple seed.
Who could have imagined the drama playing out in a backyard garden! After Flory's injury, she is forced into living and hiding in an abandoned birdhouse, marveling and managing the wonders of an unfamiliar world:  spiders, hummingbirds, raccoons, the mysterious human who refills the bird feeder, and her ally Skuggle, a hungry squirrel with a one-track mind.  Flory's temper, her bravery, her loneliness and hope are all exquisitely drawn, and the author never loses the fervor of her first chapter, introducing exciting situations that maintain a cliffhanging tension from the first page to the last. The story ends on a high note of friendship from an unexpected place, and the reassurance that faced with our fears, all may yet be well.   Painted plates gracefully illustrate the scenes about the fate of the little fairy we come to know and care about.  The book is brief at a little over a hundred small, double-spaced pages, making a lovely short story for an advanced reader or an achievement for an emergent reader; either way, it's a perfect brief read-aloud or a teacher looking to share a great book over just a few days.  Schlitz is batting a thousand in terms of publication; she has yet to write a bad book (evidenced in A DROWNED MAIDEN' S HAIR and the Newbery-winning GOOD MASTERS!  SWEET LADIES!), reason enough to warrant much deserved praise, but even more than that, she has already succeeded so brilliantly in such a variety of genres, a rare versatility we have not seen the likes of since the great Avi. This latest is a beautifully penned and packaged adventure in every way, and as close as we can hope to come to the delights of finding a real live fairy. (7 and up)

Fairies do so much as emblematic guardians of the environment, and fodder for the imagination.  Once those wings start flapping, hey, bring on the whole fairy reading ring.  Please feel free to share your favorites as well!

Little Fur #1: The Legend BeginsToby AloneLITTLE FUR by Isobelle Carmody (Random House, 2006) Little Fur, a half-elf, half-troll, lives within the safety of a circle of seven ancient trees, a sacred grove in the center of a sprawling city. Hundreds of creatures call this place home, and the spirits of the trees cloud the minds of all who would put an end to their world. But word has it that a group of humans are burning trees, and someone must go and find out whether this is the truth...and stop them, if it is so. Little Fur's feet have never left the flow of earth magic, her body has never disconnected from the nature's touch for fear she might lose the communicative bond with the trees and her magic altogether. But when duty calls, she finds the wherewithall to venture out into the uncertain streets, with the aid of a cynical crow and a few unreliable cats. This adventure is impressive in the spell it manages to cast; we really root for this odd little creature, and feel her vulnerability as she tries to complete her quest. The author's own illustrations decorate the pages, dear and unpretentious as our heroine. The brown, soft velveteen cover is more than attractive packaging, it is a perfect binding to this unique environmental quest. It's no easy feat to find strong fantasy for younger readers, and this  suspenseful read-aloud and imaginative play springboard fills the bill. Fans will find its sequel in LITTLE FUR: A FOX CALLED SORROW, and recently, there's more tree-saving and tiny people in Timothee de Fombelle's TOBY ALONE (Candlewick, 2009).  (8 and up)

The Dollhouse FairyTHE DOLLHOUSE FAIRY by Jane Ray (Candlewick 2010) After Rosy's dad goes away to recuperate from an illness, she finds that a fairy named Thistle has taken residence in her favorite toy, likewise there to recover from an injury.  Although her new roomie is slightly sloppy and demanding, naturally, Rosy is  happily obliged to take care of the tiny ward whose healing mirrors that of her father's, until the day when Rosy's dollhouse is vacant...but Dad is home at last, and Rosy's real house is whole again.  I confess to being on pins and needles for this book's release, as Jane Ray's illustrations are always worth waiting for:  large, jeweled paintings and collage full of detail and whimsy, and in this, the book does not disappoint.  My standards for dollhouse stories are high, though, after Miriam Young's  timeless MISS SUZY, Rumer Godden's MOUSE HOUSE (so precious, oh, I would love to read it out loud to you right now!) and  Jane S. O'Connell's THE DOLLHOUSE CAPER (with boys who own a dollhouse), and relatively speaking, this newcomer has a slightly heavy hand; for young children that who would have been satisfied with the fun of finding a fairy living a dollhouse, the shadow of the father's illness lends a bit of a pallor to the narrative, and for older children, the story may not be fleshed out enough for satisfaction and leave readers wishing for more.  Still, children should not be denied this book's beauty.  The solution?  More!  Have children write their own follow-up dollhouse fairy adventures themselves (Thistle certainly has enough personality to warrant it), and maybe set up a dollhouse a fairy would like to live in for inspiration. This should help in the meantime while we wait and hope to see Thistle and Rosy again in some fiction for 7-11, where they both might be more at home.  (5 and up)

A Fairy Went a-Marketing (Unicorn)Encyclopedia Mythologica: Fairies and Magical Creatures Pop-UpAnd speaking of gorgeous books.  If you have a fairy fan in your home, you must must MUST must have Rose Fyleman's A FAIRY WENT A-MARKETING (Puffin, 1992), certainly one of the loveliest and most evocative fairy picture books of them all.  In this, a kinder gentler fairy than we have seen in more recent books goes on a rhyming shopping trip in which she purchases a mouse and a fish, and frees the wild things after taking care of them.  Though the verse is lovely and lilting and the ecological story in keeping with the best practices of the fairy world, the real treasures here are in the natural detail and inventiveness that surely inspired works of art like this; everything the fairy wears and uses in her home is made from something in nature, and it will take many pleasurable viewings to find savor them all.  This book glows like fireflies.  (4 and up)  

The Complete Book of the Flower FairiesOther must-haves:  Matthew Reinhart and Ronert Sabuda's ENCYCLOPEDIA MYTHOLOGICA:  FAIRIES AND MAGICAL CREATURES, with pop-ups of lovely maids evolving into purple trolls, jeering pixies and swirling djinns peeking out from page insets, entire golden castles rising from the pages like some magnificent feat of paper architecture...the closest we can come to real magic in a book.  (8 and up)  And then, of course, there is Cicely Mary Barker's FLOWER FAIRIES, a woodland "Who's Who" which has clearly influenced all other fairy depictions in modern children's literature, containing Edwardian-influenced illustration and verse which no self-respecting and self-proclaimed fairy lover wouldn't be well-versed.  Totally Tinkerbell 101. (6 and up)  If it's your first foray into the forest world of Barker, be sure to pair with the charming and very touching movie FAIRY TALE, based on the true story of two little girls who claimed to have photographed real fairies at the turn of the last century.

It's worth mentioning that we have a gentle, shy little fairy living in the Bookroom (of course).  We know she still lives there because sometimes there is a trail of fresh glittery fairy dust leading to her door.  During the holidays, she dropped some teeny tiny presents near the entrance after she went shopping.  Actually, sometimes this all scares the heck out of my seven-year-old goddaughter, who needs hugs and explanations.  Magic can be a little scary sometimes. 

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