“I am not afraid of giants,” Flory boasted aloud. It sounded so daring that she said it again, swinging her feet. “I”m not a bit afraid of giants. But I hate bats.”
Newbery Medal winner Laura Amy Schlitz is a school librarian and knows lots of children who are asking for books about fairies, these days. That’s why she wrote “The Night Fairy,” a delightfully inventive story about a young fairy trying to make her way in our world—yes our world. More on that in a moment!
All this week we’ve got fanciful—and mostly fairy-specific—stories. Come back tomorrow to read about a fascination with fairies in the life of Sherlock Holmes-creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Wednesday, we’ll look at a rather fanciful year at Harvard University in the 1960s that transformed our current world of spirituality. And, later this week, Lynne Meredith Schreiber returns with a story for parents about enjoying a real-life fairy adventure with her children.
We’re not alone in such a focus. The Wall Street Journal just reviewed and praised Schlitz’s new book. (Yes, the Wall Street Journal praising a little book about fairies! Hmmm. One’s mind races, doesn’t it?) The WSJournal called this new book “elegant” and “exquisite,” and we certainly share that strong recommendation.
To illustrate the timeless breadth of interest in these little creatures—the illustration, below, is not from the new book, but from a century-old children’s book about fairies.
What’s so special about “The Night Fairy”?
Well, first, just like real children—fairy children often feel alone and often feel hurt by forces they don’t understand. Flory, the main character in this new adventure, has an accidental but tragic encounter with a bat that leaves scars on her wings. As she begins to recover, she discovers something that seems even more ominous:
Of course, from a tiny little fairy’s perspective, a “giant” is—well, psst, don’t tell the young people who’ll read this book—but the first giant Flory encounters is what we would call … a human.
One reason I call this book “delightful” is this reversal of perspectives that occurs again and again. Rather than a typical fantasy narrative in which characters move deeply into their own world and relations with our world become tenuous—Schlitz positions Flory’s adventures literally on our doorstep.
Another example of playful inversion of “our” world is the “big” squirrel who becomes her companion—not exactly her friend, but certainly an important companion. The squirrel’s major quest in life is figuring out fresh strategies to keep gathering food from the progressively more complex bird feeders the giant keeps introducing in the garden. My wife and I have always enjoyed feeding birds and we know all too well the daily drama of trying to keep squirrels from gobbling up all the best songbird mix. Suddenly, I was reading about this drama from the squirrel’s perspective—with an overlay of Flory’s own viewpoint on squirrels, as well.
As little Flory grows, she also encounters some of the more terrifying denizens of the garden, including one fascinating creature who calls himself Peregrine, a name that Schlitz defines as “Traveler.” I won’t spoil the story, even for adults, by revealing this creature’s identity here—but that term “Peregrine” has been intertwined in religious and spiritual realms for thousands of years. It began as a term for free residents of the Roman Empire who were not imperial citizens—and eventually morphed into what we now call pilgrims.
Young readers, I suspect, simply will race through this little book
and very likely will enjoy this tale’s mind-bending adventures, teasing
them to see our own worlds from a number of other viewpoints. But, I
strongly suspect that this is a “read-it-again” book, especially if
parents are reading it aloud at story time. As we live with this
book, there will be some fun conversations about what’s going on in our
own back yards.
In my view, and perhaps in yours, those are some of the best conversations to have with our children.
(Below is a small snapshot of a 2-page spread inside this book. Color illustrations by Angela Barrett are sprinkled throughout “The Night Fairy.)
CARE TO READ MORE?
Last week, we reviewed two other cool new books for kids! These books are about animals, earth science and saving our planet.
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(Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)