Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Night Fairy

Written by Laura Amy Schlitz,

illustrated by Angela Barrett

Candlewick Press, 2010

$16.99, ages 9-12, 128 pages.

After a feisty young fairy loses her wings, she tries to coax other creatures into carrying her on their backs until a hummingbird teaches her that not everyone has to do what she wants.

In this delightful tale by Newbery Medal winner Schlitz, a bat pup on the hunt for food mistakes a night fairy named Flory for a moth and bites her wings, sending her falling from the sky onto a cherry tree.

Crushed and aching, Flory's wings are beyond repair, but Flory is a nimble little thing and manages to crawl up into an abandoned nesting box higher in the tree and hole up inside until she can figure out what do.

Though just shy of three months old, Flory is headstrong and doesn't take long to decide what to do, and since she now thinks bats are horrid creatures, she wants to get as far away from them as she can.

Too young to cast a spell to grow new wings, Flory must find a way to live in the woods so that she won't be preyed upon by bats and decides to switch her waking hours from night to day.

But being a day fairy isn't easy when you're born for nighttime -- the sunshine makes Flory's eyes water and dries her skin -- yet Flory is used to making do and with the exception of bats, isn't afraid of much.

Like all night fairies, Flory was fledged just seven days after she was born and never had anyone to guide her -- mother fairies don't look after their young, so it's up to fairy babes to make their way in the world, which forces them to be intrepid.

Now that she can see what daytime looks like, Flory is taken in by the blue of the sky, and the colors and energy of a garden below. The garden belongs to a giant, and though day fairies fear giants, she doesn't feel a bit intimidated by her, and the giant, who seems small for a giant, seems oblivious to Flory.

But Flory still has a big problem. Given that she's only as tall as an acorn, gathering food by foot would be slow and arduous, so Flory decides she must get another creature to take her where she needs to go and in no time at all, Flory finds a squirrel do just that.

At first the squirrel startles her, sniffing around the nesting box, but Flory discovers she can tame him with a stinging spell and cajoles him into carrying her on his head to a feeder that he can't get into. In exchange, Flory shares the seeds she frees from the tube.

Soon, Flory thinks of all kinds of deals she can make with the squirrel, whom she names Skuggle, such as getting him to gnaw off a thorn in exchange for her spearing suet for him to eat -- though she isn't terribly kind to him.

The squirrel is also very single-minded and would have eaten Flory had she not provided him with food.

Still, the two are growing accustomed to each other. Since Flory doesn't have other night fairies to teach her manners and since Skuggle doesn't have manners to teach Flory, the two don't seem to mind the other being rude.

In fact, they've grown quite accustomed to each other, perhaps even friendly, though neither knows what that means.

But Flory isn't satisfied riding a big lumbering squirrel. She wants to ride on the back of a hummingbird -- a graceful ride with wings that quiver in the air -- though she knows that hummingbirds are known to be aloof, even nasty.

Flory decides to hang out at a hummingbird feeder to get their attention, but is ignored by one bird after the next until one day something horrible happens and she gets her chance to force one of them to shuttle her around.

To her surprise, the hummingbird refuses to make a deal with Flory and challenges the fairy to do what's right.

Any child who's ever wished she was small enough to scamper among the branches of a tree will adore this story, and be warmed by the lessons Flory learns: to act with kindness and be willing to forgive, even if you're afraid to at first.

Schlitz, a librarian most of her life, won the 2008 Newbery for Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!, while Angela Barrett illustrated the breathtaking 2007 remake of Paul Gallico's classic tale The Snow Goose and Max Eilenberg's 2006 adaptation of Beauty and the Beast.

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