MAGICAL BOOKS FOR FAIRY FANS
My daughters, particularly the elder, have been fairy-crazy since they first heard of the things. My elder daughter’s nursery leaving certificate was awarded to her for ‘being the best fairy’; it’s probably hard to think of forty-something different awards at the end of every year but this one was very appropriate! Now they are growing older I think that the fairy obsession is probably just about on the wane. Over the years we have read countless fairy books and done all sorts of fairy activities so I thought I would share some of our favourites here.
Cicely M. Barker’s Flower Fairy books. These are the classics and you probably won’t be able to avoid Flower Fairies in some form if you have a little girl. Even if you haven’t read the books you will probably have come across the illustrations printed on cards, plates, mugs, stationary, wall decals, etc. I enjoyed these books when I was little and, to be honest, they are my favourite fairy books. The poems are easy to memorise and the pictures are not only beautiful but instructive. From the combination of words and illustrations I learned a lot about the plants and trees of my country and enjoyed spotting ones I recognised when we were out for a walk. The language is sophisticated without being difficult and although some of the poems may seem twee or over-sentimental now I think they are still excellent for children. Another exceptional thing about these books is that the fairies aren’t just pink, floaty girls; there are many boy fairies and both male and female fairies are portrayed in all sorts of different costumes and characters. There are fierce warrior-esque fairies; noble, stately fairies; hard-working, humble fairies; baby fairies; dancing fairies; dreaming fairies; climbing fairies; healing fairies; mischevious fairies; travelling fairies; even some sad fairies. One of my best ever book buys was getting hold of the boxed set of the individual volumes in hardback from The Book People for £14.99 about seven years ago. It seems very difficult to get hold of these days, although The Complete Book of the Flower Fairies is a good alternative.
There are also numerous books to accompany the original poetry books. These are not actually written by Barker herself and some seem little more than a scrapbook of lines of the poetry put together into a sort of storyline whilst different pictures of faires and flowers have been cut and pasted into different arrangements. They aren’t the originals but some are a fun read. Somethat have a bit more to them and which we especially like are: The Girls’ Book of Flower Fairies, which is full of character descriptions of the fairies, background to their world and way of life, a story and crafts to try; How to Find Flower Fairies: Discover an enchanted fairy world which contains some beautiful pop-ups; and A Flower Fairies Journal which purports to be Cicley M. Barker’s own journal and is a scrapbook full of fascinating tickets, letters, postcards, snippets of information and so on to lift and read.
The Rainbow Magic Fairy books by ‘Daisy Meadows’. These have to be one of the most successful book-marketing ventures ever. The Rainbow Magic Fairy books start with a set of seven books in which two friends meet a succession of rainbow fairies and help them to defeat the dastardly Jack Frost and his goblin henchmen who continually threaten the status quo of fairyland and intrude into the human world in an attempt to spoil everyone’s fun. The friends help the fairy to defeat Jack Frost, usually by finding a missing or stolen object, and save the day. This basic plot-line is repeated book after book after book. They run into the hundreds. And – this is the really clever part – each fairy has a different girl’s name and is pictured on the cover in a fashionable little outfit with a cute hairstyle. Is your daughter named Georgia? There’s a fairy for that: Georgia the Guinea Pig Fairy. Do you have a Sophie? Then she’ll love Sophie the Sapphire Fairy. Zoe? There’s a Zoe the Skating Fairy. Moreover, the books cover just about every possible aspect of little girls’ lives, just about every hobby they might have, any pet they might have or desire, every wild animal they might find interesting, every sport they might play, every fairytale they love best, every job they might want to do when they grow up. There are weather fairies, fashion fairies, jewel fairies, sports fairies, pet fairies, music fairies, school fairies, fairytale fairies, dance fairies, ocean fairies, green fairies, fairytale fairies, party fairies, animal fairies, days of the week fairies, friend fairies, pet keeper, petal and princess fairies. And more! So much apparent variety and yet so very little difference between one book and the next or even the hundreth book after that. To have to read these books aloud more than a handful of times is to self-hypotise oneself into a semi-catatonic state.
And yet. They have a place. My daughter was given the first seven as a birthday present but, at first, she was wary of reading them. As I have mentioned in previous posts, she does not enjoy what the film classifers refer to as ‘mild peril’; she hated books with nasty or angry characters and she hated books where children were in danger or even told off by an adult. She loved reading but there were so many books she was afraid to read! She wouldn’t touch the Rainbow Magic Fairies for a while because she was worried about the Jack Frost character but after a while she tried them and…loved them! She devoured them! Most are slim volumes and the repetitive storylines and predictable outcomes meant they slipped down like a chocolate button. So, they weren’t fine literature but they got her reading other, more advanced and interesting books on her own. They gave her the confidence to try other books for herself. She thought the goblins were hilarious and they held almost as much fascination for her as the fairies. She and her sister were always playing games involving the goblins, some of whom were ‘good goblins’ and others merely ridiculous. In the end she ended up having a Rainbow Magic Fairies sixth birthday party complete with ‘stick the nose on the goblin’!
To my relief she eventually left the Rainbow Magic Fairies and the goblins behind her and they were resigned to a box under the bed. My younger daughter has just started excavating them, however, and I am, once again, slipping over the dozens of shiny paperbacks left strewn all over the bedroom. I might be tempted to sigh and I certainly try suggesting she reads something ‘better’ but really these books are her version of what adults call a ‘guilty pleasure’. They are her chic-lit, her old Judy Blumes, her Gilmour Girls or Hollyoaks. They are a book to read to relax; being seven can be tiring these days! Plus, at least there is a Reading Fairy! What’s more, there are always loads in the library so you don’t need to buy them and The Book People always have offers on the various sets so they are a great standby for party bags.
The Fairy Detective Agency (Wings & Co.) by Sally Gardner. These are a great variation on the fancy fairies who hang about with cupcakes, flowers and pink things. A little girl is abandoned at Stanstead Airport and named Emily Vole after the name on the hat box she was found in and the bomb disposal expert who found her. Adopted by a rich but shallow couple who soon tire of her she suddenly inherits a curious old shop, a bunch of keys and a cat called Fidget. Emily finds herself at the headquarters of the Fairy Detective Agency and realises she must re-open its doors and tackle a new case. These are tough, funny books with brilliant, original characters. So far there are four books in the series: Operation Bunny, Three Pickled Herrings, The Rollercoaster Case (previously published as The Vanishing of Billy Buckle; I got all excited and thought there was a new one out until I realised!) and The Matchbox Mysteries. Happily, there is a new book due to be published in April 2017: The Flying Carpet Thief.
Fairie-ality: The Fashion Collection from the House of Ellwand. This is a stunning coffee-table book set out like a haute couture fashion collection publication. It is probably not really for children at all and when it was published was priced at £25.00 which suggests an adult market. It is out of print now but can be bought second hand very cheaply indeed so is a good idea if you have a slightly older child who is into fairies and/or fashion.
Betty Bib’s Fairy Field Guide: The Illustrated Handbook of Fairies and their Habitats. This is one in a series of Betty Bib fairy books. It isn’t one of our absolute favourites but is cleverly done with answers to ‘Common Fairy Queries’, a ‘Fairy Directory’ (apparently the Sock Fairies are to blame for a lot of our delays in the morning) and a guide to ‘How to Attract Fairies’. Some of the illustrations are paintings (‘I once saw a dozen Fun fairies dancing on the back of my dachshund Dorking – and what’s more, he didn’t seem to mind very much!’) while others are ingenious applique pictures (the Sock fairies are fantastic!) which is I think why, perhaps peculiarly, it’s not one that captured my daughters’ imagination as much as some of their other books; they are just to real to be unreal. They are a great inspiration, however, if you are craftily inclined; you could even make your own versions with petals and other natural materials if you or your children aren’t skilled with a needle and fabric.
Fairies: A Magical Guide to the Enchanted Realm by Alison Maloney, illustrated by Patricia Moffett. My daughters used to read this a lot but it is probably my least favourite of our books. The illustrations are a little creepy; sometimes the eyes are too bright and gleaming yet at other times the drawings are like vivid, almost garish, cartoons. Not all the characters detailed in this book are kindly (‘Changelings are usually bad-tempered, with a face which looks a bit like an old man or woman, and are exceptionally irritating.’) which my children didn’t like and I sometimes had to reassure them that some of the more unsavoury ‘facts’ they read here aren’t true.
The Wychwood Fairies; Harriet Everdene, Fairy Finder by Faye Durston. This is another lovely scrapbook-style book which tells the story of Harriet Everdene who takes up the post of ‘Official Fairy Researcher’ in the magical Wychwood. The little notebooks, letters, jottings and so on show her fairy findings as her research progresses. On our copy, the very beautifully designed frontcover is somewhat besmirched by a bright pink sticker promising: ‘NOVELTIES, REMOVABLE LETTERS AND A POP-UP ENDING!’ Still, it’s a clever, well-done book for the older fairy fans (6 or 7 up?).
The Fairy Catalogue and Fairy Shopping: more Sally Gardner books, but very different from Wings & Co. The Fairy Catalogue is a little like Alan and Janet Ahlberg’s The Baby’s Catalogue, which they wrote when they realised that their little girl just loved looking through the Mothercare catalogue, but rather than breakfasts and buggies, the reader can choose fairy frocks, wands, dream houses and even a ‘baddie’ for their fairy story. Even better (hard though that is!) is Fairy Shopping which takes you on a walk through the fairy village, peeping in at all the wonderful shops and goods. The detail is incredible and there is so much to look and to get your imagination running away with your fairy gold. These are just beautiful, fabulous books.