Classics, middle grade

I Do, I Do Believe in Fairies! The Night Fairy

Behold the work of the sublime Angela Barrett

There are many little girls out there who are subsisting on a steady diet of fairy books by authors such as the eponymous “Daisy Meadows”. If you know a fairy-obsessed child and are yearning for something a bit more substantial, look no further than The Night Fairy

Flory is a night fairy who has to learn to fend for herself when her beautiful wings are destroyed. She takes solace in an abandoned birdhouse and decides to try being a day fairy in order to avoid her arch-nemeses, the bats. Schlitz’s take on fairies is less sugar and spice and more savvy warrior princess. Flory is a solitary, self-reliant creature who befriends a squirrel because it is convenient, and agrees to help a hummingbird so that she may have it for “her own.” As the story goes on, Flory learns what it is to be a true friend, as well as what it means to feel truly sorry. Important lessons, subtly and skillfully folded into a compelling narrative.

Schlitz’s observations of the natural world are more factual than fanciful, and yet she suceeds in casting the natural world with a sense of reverence that is magical. Schlitz talks about fairies with such certainty and specific detail it makes the reader believe in their existence. I’m sure many young readers (or listeners- this would be a fabulous read-aloud) will pay extra attention to birdhouses and gardens after reading this book. It brought to mind the childhood experiences of Susan Coyne, as described in her fabulous memoir, Kingfisher Days, a great adult read which is, in a word, enchanting.

Angela Barrett’s illustrations are gentle and luminous, a perfect match for Schlitz’s clean, evocative text. Talk about a dream team! As an object, The Night Fairy is exquisite. It’s a nice size, has a solid weight to it, features colour illustrations and is printed on good quality glossy pages. It is the perfect antidote to all those e-readers out there. There may be a time and a place for the e-reader/Kindle/iPad/what-have-you, but it will never compare with the artistry or the satisfaction one gets from holding a book as well made as this. Of course it’s from Candlewick.

Schlitz has multiple awards and honours. Her middle grade novel A Drowned Maiden’s Hair is one of my recent favourites (prickly orphans, seances, ghosts, seaside town? Yes, please!), so I wasn’t in the least surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. She is a fantastic writer who can write in many genres and in my mind, is a worthy contemporary of the likes of Kate DiCamillo.

The tone of the story reminded me of Randall Jarrell’s work, particularly The Bat Poet and The Animal Family. It has the ring of fable to it, and indeed there are a number of animal characters with great names (Skuggle, Perry).  The sentences are short and elegant; there is none of the flowery description one comes to expect from stories about fairies.Years from now, The Night Fairy will still feel fresh and enchanting. What more do you want from a fairy book?

The Night Fairy is available now from Candlewick Press.

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