Fairyland Series by Catherynne M. Valente

Books in the Fairyland Series include: The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland –For a Little While #.05; The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making #1; The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There #2; The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two #3.


Girl Who RuledThe short volume (numbered .05) which introduces the series begins: “In which a young girl named Mallow leaves the country for the city, meets a number of Winds, Cats and handsome folk, sees something dreadful, and engages, much against her will, in Politiks of the most muddled kind.”

I particularly enjoyed the references to books :
“I have all the books I could need, and what more could I need than books?”

Life “should be spent in as much peace and good eating and good reading as possible and no undue excitement.”

“…a pack of supplies (mostly books) hung from her strong shoulder, and a cast-iron duck clunked along behind her, trying determinedly to be taken along.”

And also the life wisdom passed on quite frequently:
“It’s true the world will always hurt you, we say, so best to stay with your ducks by a pleasant lake, and feed them the sparks of your dinner-fire, the fat one’s with orange bits especially.”

I read the first book before this prequel and think perhaps it works quite well in that order. I was then quite intrigued by Mallow’s story and ready to discover more about her.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making  is a joyful reading Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairylandexperience. It is introduced  this way: “In Which a Girl Named September is Spirited Off By Means of Leopard, Learns the Rules of Fairyland, and Solves a Puzzle.” I found these introductions to each chapter delightful promises of the adventuring to be done in that particular chapter.  September is about to turn eleven when this book begins and she is approached almost immediately by the Green Wind who offers her a “ride upon the Leopard of Little Breezes…to the great sea which borders Fairyland”. Feeling quite bored, September responds emphatically “Oh, yes!” September neglects saying goodbye to her parents but she “had read a great number of books and knew that parents are only angry until they have discovered that their little adventurer has been to Fairyland and not the corner pub, and then everything is alright.”

This book was a New York Times Children’s Bestseller and won the Andre Norton Award. Neil Gaiman described it as “A glorious balancing act between modernism and the Victorian fairy tale, done with heart and wisdom.”

These books introduce new terminology and challenge young and older reader alike: conservatism as a personality trait, trapezoidal, rhomboid, tesseract, latitude and longitude, cloud types and cartography are all introduced within a few pages of one another.  And this is just the beginning. They are quickly followed by a Temporary Visa and a Customs declaration which must be filled out upon entering Fairyland. And then she must set out upon a quest. She meets wairwulfs and witches including one named Hello and her sister named Goodbye and their husband named Manythanks.

Girl who Fell Beneath FairylandThe Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There opens with this dedication:

“For everyone who has taken a chance on a girl
with a funny name and her flying library.

Let the Revel begin.”

The list of Dramatis Personae for this book is a delight in itself. Besides September and her parents it includes the following:

the Hreinns, Taiga and Neep; Fairy King Charlie Crunchcrab; the Wyverary A-Through-L; Aubergine, a Night-Dodo; Belinda Cabbage, a Fairy Physickist; The Onion-Man; Saturday, a Marid; Glasswort Groof, a Goblin; Halloween, Queen of Fairyland-Below; The Silver Wind, a Following Wind; Gleam, a Paper Lantern; The Watchful Dress, a Useful Tool; Imogen, the Leopard of Little Breezes; Nod, a Dream-Eating Tapir and many, many more.

The book begins with some thoughts about secrets, a subject which will also have significance in the next book of the series. “Secrets are delicate things” but they can “get stuck inside you, and very slowly boil up your bones for their bitter soup. Then the secret has you, not the other way round.” Valente includes much of this sort of wisdom in her tales of fairyland and the reader may take it for her own edification or ignore it at her peril!

It has been nearly a year since September went to Fairyland when this book starts and she wants very much to return. She has turned thirteen and she and her mother make a cake (they had saved up their ration cards because there is a war going on) and then they go to a film about spies and she got three new books, “one of them in French, sent all the way from a village liberated by her father (with a little help). While she was out reading in the long May grass when the “breeze ruffled the pages of her birthday books but she did not look up until the rowboat flew at ripping speed over her head on the tips of the wheatstalks as if they were waves.” “September’s mother stepped out of the house, looking for her daughter, her eyes puffy with tears. But there was no girl in the wheat anymore, only three brand-new books, a bit of toffee still in its wax wrapper, and a pair of crows (Wit and Study) winging off, cawing after a rowboat that had already vanished ahead of them.” When she awakens after being dropped on the border between our world and Fairyland a great forest surrounds her and she discovers the “best of birthday presents”! She is back in Fairyland. She is also alone. So it remains to be seen how this adventure will go but you can be sure, readers, that it will be an ADVENTURE!

This book was A Time Magazine Best Book of 2012 and Booklist described it as follows:

“Valente’s inviting, lush, and densely detailed world is so evocative of well-travelled lands such as Neverland and Oz, but, at the same time, is uniquely its own.”

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two is reviewed by Sophie ScribeGirl Who Soared Over here http://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2014/feb/23/review-fairyland-valente-soared-moon-girl and it is a good summary by someone who hasn’t read the earlier books in the series.  I like the dedication on this third book:

For all those who take the hand of a brightly colored stranger
and journey back to Fairyland once a year

and everyone
whoever thought
they were too young
or too old.

This book has a fantastically clever and accurate “essay” on lies in the first four pages. It applies to all ages: one just has to pay attention and read it more than once.

September has grown up and/or is growing up quickly in this volume so it is even more suitable for older children of all ages. Don’t let the latter claim throw you off: it just means that adults could learn a great deal from this book (not that they couldn’t learn quite a bit from the previous books in the series)!

There are some great library references in this book. The librarian herself is something wonderful to consider:

The actual Librarian is a Periwig,  “Aldermanic Order, from the Foxtail Haberdashery…a wonder with figures and sorting and classification and fiddly things that take patience that people’s heads just don’t have.”

Here are some quotes from the librarian:

“A silent Library is a sad Library.”

“A Library should be full of exclamations! Shouts of delight and horror as the wonders of the world are discovered or the lies of the heavens uncovered or the wild adventures of devil-knows-who sent romping out of the pages.”

“The books, you know, they have opinions. Factions.  Pitched battles.  Right now, the Fictionals have the advantage – they’re the flashy ones, after all, and whatever they say in their pages goes, even if it doesn’t make a  lick of sense and rhymes besides. Non-Fiction has had to abide by the rules of what really is, and that is just exhausting.”

“Clothes are a story you choose to tell about yourself, a different one every day.”

“A Librarian must be stalwart and bold: she must give information when it is asked for!”

There is much much more of this amazingly entertaining creative material to be found throughout this series. If you have the least interest in going to Fairyland I heartily recommend going with September.

The Eye of the Day by Dennison Smith

“Tragedy in the Trainyard” : these were the headlines in the Hardwick Bulletin one day in June of 1939.

The local paper reported that “the conductor, the lineman and the labourer, Amos Cobb, had been killed.”  Later, in July, there was another article entitled “Monster Defies Death.”

Young Aubrey Shaw Brown had pasted both these articles in his scrapbook and committed their words to memory.

Amos had been halfway up the coalhouse ladder. The locomotive was directly below him. He Eye of the Daycouldn’t see inside the locomotive where the conductor was adjusting the pop valve nor could he see that “the arrow on the gauge pointed to one hundred and fifty-five pounds” although it was actually over three hundred.  Then the locomotive blew up.

“The conductor died in an instant: he had his head sliced off. The train’s steel skin burst like a pickling bottle, and sheets of metal shucked like cornhusk. The firebox end of the engine rocketed into the coalhouse; the cab end disappeared….One low-flying spike pierced Amos’ jaw and carried on through the back of his head; a searing darkness entered his skull, and the light in his left eye was snuffed. An awesome force threw him off the ladder to the ground, but equally strong and mysterious, the earth stood him up again.”

Explosion after explosion ignited fires.

A family was waiting for the late train from Princeton with their mother on board  and the first blast “propelled eleven year old Aubrey Shaw Brown past his father’s arm onto a concrete platform where a bulb shattered above him and cut him above one eye. A second blast threw him down as he was lifting himself up and a glass shard sliced his thumb. When he had pushed himself up, rain and hail and blood blocked his sight but his concern was elsewhere.

“I can’t see Amos,” he said.”

While Aubrey’s father went searching for a ride to take them back to the cottage on Caspian Lake, Amos made his way to the tracks and ran towards the burning coalhouse calling out for Amos. And suddenly he was there.

Amos had risen to his feet and he put his big hand on Aubrey’s head just to balance himself. Aubrey guided Amos towards the railway hotel. Aubrey’s father called for him and  he stepped away from Amos who collapsed amidst camera flashes and morphine syringes wielded by rescue workers.

When someone asked his wife Donna why she married Amos, her reply was “Life only lasts so long anyway” but her reasons were explained by the narrator in more detail: “Amos never drank so much that tables and chairs got broken. He didn’t fight when  he didn’t need to, or hold back when he did. He’d slugged her daddy so hard, Daddy had never come near her again. That was reason enough to marry. Even before the accident, he wasn’t exactly handsome, but he was the strongest and sturdiest man in the state. He could do the work of twenty men, and every employer knew it. His sheer size had promised to lift her out of adversity, and when she got pregnant the first time, he was gentle enough not to ask how. They might have been a happy little family, like the ones she’d seen in the movies, if,  soon after their visit to the justice of the peace, the baby hadn’t dropped out dead.”

Amos was the handyman at the Shaw Brown’s cottage in the summers. Aubrey’s grandmother had decided not to have Amos back after the accident. Neighbours didn’t want a disfigured man around their children. Aubrey’s mother Ruth, in poor health,  insisted that Amos be retained,  and her wishes won her mother over although she was warned that she would be responsible if anything happened.

Aubrey spent his time with adults, his father, his grandmother, his mother when she was available and so he was happy to her that Amos would be back. His mother said he was “unshackled” by the summer: she seemed to understand his love for the lake and Vermont and Greensboro. His father was distant and his grandmother scolded him but doubtless they were anxious regarding his mother’s health.Grandmother would send him on running journeys to expend his excess energy. They went to see a monument to Aubrey’s namesake, Wilson Aubrey who was a Brigadier General in the Revolutionary War. Back in the car they talked about Greta Garbo being “on the lake this summer” and Aubrey’s attention was caught.

“”I saw her in Mata Hari at the Bend,” he said, though Grandmother’s hand held him firmly in place.” Grandmother was annoyed with her son Everett(Aubrey’s father) for having brought up his brother Jack in the same conversation that mentioned Adolf Hitler. Aubrey, however, was like a bull dog and insisted on knowing whether Greta Garbo was really on the lake this summer. This leads to a discussion about Mata Hari herself and Everett explains that he had met her and that she “claimed to be a Javanese princess” and gave herself the name of Mata Hari which is Javanese for the sun, literally ‘the eye of the day.”

There is more about Mata Hari and Greta Garbo and you will find that part an interesting addition. Aubrey  has a teenage crush on Garbo and has been warned to stay away…so what would any teenager do under those circumstances?

Amos Cobb’s back story is an interesting one too: he was the last of his family although they had held land in the area since before the Revolution. Since the accident his job at the cottage was the only one he had and he was grateful for it.

Delia, the housekeeper at the cottage, had known Amos since he was a boy. When he carried in the Shaw’s books she saw “his massive hands around a crate of books he wouldn’t read. He was alone in the world, the last of his name on an impoverished acreage, with a wife sick in the head, and his own head skewered by a railway spike. If he was alone always, he’d become doubly alone since the accident.”

Amos and Aubrey. A pair. Amos “liked the kid for his loneliness. It was the loneliness of a cornfield in the winter, though the kid didn’t know it yet, his loneliness not having come upon him fully. Amos watched for a while as Aubrey rowed towards the centre of the lake…”

Their paths will cross again…check it out.