Tuesday, June 14, 2011

1. Fairytale Magic

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente, illustrated by Ana Juan (Feiwel and Friends, $16.99, ages 10-14, 256 pages, 2011) A girl is whisked away from her bedroom at night by a westerly wind in a quest to save Fairyland in one of the most enchanting books of the year. The girl, 12-year-old September, is quite happy to go with the Green Wind, even though she's missing a shoe. She's tired of home and having to wash sinks full of teacups and gravy boats. She also doesn't like that her mother is always bent over fixing engines at work and her dad is always away at war (and so, to her, quite unreliable.) But why would the Green Wind call on September for such an adventure -- a girl from Omaha, Nebraska, who is only just clever enough to swim, read books, and "fix boilers if only a little"?

Well, the Green Wind saw how pitiful September was, being born in the month of May with a mole on her cheek and very large and ungainly feet, and offered to drop her in a perilous sea so she could swim to a beach and look for signs to Fairyland. But first the wind must bring her on his flying leopard through interlocking rings in the sky, teach her seven Fairy rules and have her perform odd rituals to unlock a closet between Earth and the fairy world. After that, a gnome must stamp her Visa and send her into a worm hole to the sea. Though it all seems rather odd, September welcomes the adventure -- even the part about being dropped into the sea. After all, she can swim and she's read all about how helpful girls can be in fairy tales. But this is a trip the wind cannot take with her and after flailing about in the sea, September washes up on the beach (of rose petals and other strange things), feeling very alone. Nearby she meets three witches and learns that all is not well in Fairyland. An evil marquess has stolen one of the witch's spoons that cooks up the future and done away with Fairyland's true ruler, Good Queen Mallow. Not only that, the marquess has put a padlock on the wings of a kindly wyvern so he can't fly. The wyvern, named "A-Through-L" for curious reasons, immediately warms to September and together they set off to steal back the spoon. In return, the witches promise they'll give September safe passage back to her warm bed and another favor (which September hasn't decided on just yet.) But first September and faithful  A-Through-L will have to be scrubbed clean by a golem made of soap and break one of the most important rules of Fairyland, never to enter the Worsted Wood. If only September could be reunited with a jeweled orange key, whose purpose was to make her smile and comfort her. Wondrously imaginative and peculiar in the most enchanting ways, Valente's debut is like nothing I've read this year. As I read and giggled, I kept imagining Lewis Carroll looking down from above with a Cheshire cat grin.

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