Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Miniature World: The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz

This is really a tiny treasure of a book, and it comes so beautifully wrapped.  Before reading  a word I was impressed by its beautiful thick glossy paper, rich shimmery blue-black endpapers, elegant typesetting, and the lovingly detailed, full-colour illustrations by British illustrator Angela Barrett.  The level of craftsmanship that has gone into creating this book prepares its audience well for the special experience of reading it. 

 Laura Amy Schlitz, a Newbery medal winner for Good Masters!  Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village,  makes me realize just how flat and boring those popular fairy series books that girls have been reading for the past few years really are.  Her writing overflows with intelligence, imagination, literary quality, and respect for its audience.  I love how she uses vocabulary that is so flavourful  and precise, vocabulary which I'm guessing will gently stretch a lot of children's boundaries while never overwhelming them:

"On the night of Flory's peril, she was less than three months old.  It was a windy night:  cool and sweet with springtime.  Flory was coasting on the breeze, letting it toss her wherever it liked.  She was still very tiny--as tall as an acorn--and her green wings glittered in the moonlight.  A little brown bat swooped down upon her, caught her, and crunched up her wings." 

One of the many things I loved about this book was its depiction of the natural world.  Fairies are the only supernatural entities in this book, and Flory is actually the only fairy we ever see.  A night fairy by virtue of her time of birth, she turns herself into a day creature when she loses her flight, and makes her home in the garden of a "giantess" (in the birdhouse, actually).  Her life there is populated with squirrels and  raccoons and hummingbirds and insects and spiders.  The animals talk to her, but otherwise they stay completely in character.  Flory is not altogether benevolent at first;  she can be selfish and irritable, and it is interesting to see how organically her feelings develop:

"Flory felt a funny ache in her throat. She was not the kind of fairy who cried easily, and she didn't think the hummingbird cried at all.  But the words "the chicks will die" made her feel queer, as if her heart were swollen and sore.  She gave herself a little shake, trying to replace the queer feeling with crossness...".  

Schlitz's writing contains echoes of The Secret Garden in places;  doesn't that paragraph read like it could be about Mary Lennox?  And in the end, Flory's wings regrow and she is at last able to fly again, just like Colin is able to walk.

 Much of the fascination in The Night Fairy comes from seeing our world in miniature through Flory's perceptive eyes.  It's also a treat to see how resourceful and adventurous she becomes, as the lone fairy in her environment.  This would be a beautiful read-aloud or the perfect book for an imaginative child to curl up with on a summer afternoon.

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