Revisiting Some Favourites

I assume that everyone reading here is dying to ask me the question, “But, Deborah, which books stick? You read a lot, buy a lot, but which ones keep coming back?”

And, you know, that’s an excellent question. I’m going to tell you about three books which have endured in the love both of my Changeling and, well, my own heart and mind.

Let’s start with one of my favourite recent publications: Karl, Get Out of the Garden!

Karl Get Out of the Garden

I remember buying Karl. I saw it on the Charlesbridge website and fell in love before I’d even entered my credit card number. It was the beginning of my Charlesbridge obsession (do you remember Will’s Words, too?) and remains a favourite. The thing is, when I bought it, the Changeling was a bit young for it. But I recently pulled it out and offered her the option of a few books for bedtime, and she chose this one.

If I loved it before, I love it even more after reading it aloud. The text and the illustrations merge beautifully together, and there was plenty for my daughter to engage with as I read or before turning the page. Make no mistake: this is a “slow read” not a fast bedtime story. If you’re anxious to get your kid to bed, read something else. If it’s the weekend and it’s raining outside and you need something to absorb everyone for half an hour (theoretically speaking, not like that’s been happening all day every day this summer), definitely pick this up! Let your child explore each page fully, and there is so much to explore. Read slowly and enjoy Anita Sanchez’s prose and how Caroline Stock both respects and enhances it in her luminous watercolours. I can’t say how glad I am that my changeling has grown into this book, and that I get to re-experience it through her eyes.

a-child-of-books

This book is another one (A Child of Books; my original post is here) I got for myself. I was at my local store and the then-manager, Sherryl, grabbed me and put the ARC for this book in my hands. I immediately pre-ordered it through her and waited impatiently for my copy to arrive. It’s such a favourite that I’ve continued to visit it, and, in fact, just bought two copies as gifts last week. The funny thing is that everyone I respect– Sherryl, Terri, and Amy from the book shop, and my mother– all agree with my assessment that it’s a book for adults. I bought it expecting it to be of interest only to me.

The Changeling LOVES IT.

I bought it when she was three and we read it several times together. She really enjoyed it then, but just recently, she’s gotten super excited about it. She examines the illustrations, teasing out the words cleverly manipulated to depict clouds or mountains; she picks out the titles of books from the endpapers and asks about them; and she reads the plain text, too. It’s another slow read, because you really don’t want to ask your beloved tiny bookworm to hurry up and go to bed. It’s fun to read it together slowly and talk about what you think about the pictures or the fairy tales that make the trees in the woods… there’s just such a richness of bookiness to it that the book I thought was only for me is actually for both of us, each to our level. I thought it was an adult’s picture book, but, actually, it turns out to be a “house of invention” for everyone who would enter it. And I strongly suggest that you pay it a visit!

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I’ve written about Eleanor Farjeon several times before: here, here, and here. What I haven’t said anywhere is that the Changeling and I have been reading a few stories from The Little Bookroom over and over, and they’ve been sticking in her mind. I have a feeling that these stories are going to be to her what fairy tales were to me. I have no idea when I first started on longer fiction (stories rather than picture books), but the Changeling, for whatever reason, has taken to these stories in a way she hasn’t taken to fairy tales. These stories have the same kind of depth as fairy tales, but somehow have a more intimate, child-friendly appeal.

Basically, I think that The Little Bookroom is one of the most underrated, unjustly forgotten collections of short fiction out there, and I, Deborah Furchtgott, hereby vow to do as much as I can to spread the knowledge of it throughout the world and to children everywhere. Eleanor Farjeon speaks to children with a voice entirely suited to them, and without in any fashion patronizing or pandering, and hers were the stories I read to my baby when she was lying in her basket and I was bored witless.

And so these are three books which have endured throughout the years in this family. They’re not the only three, of course, but they’re the three that popped to my mind when I sat down to write this post. And they are, all three, books which deserve a wider audience. So, if you’ve been sitting around thinking, “What should I get for that child in my life?” try these! Trust me: you won’t be disappointed.

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Fairy Spell

Do you believe in fairies?

Or maybe: “Deborah, do you believe in fairies?”

I’ve always found it a difficult question, personally. The obvious answer is, “No.” I’ve never seen a fairy (and, believe me, as a child I looked!), I’ve never held much conviction in “sensing” supernatural influences like auras or anything like that, and I found, as a young reader, that the wide variety of fairies in various books made it difficult to know what I was looking for when it came to fairy folk. Small and in the flowers? Tall and gracious? Noble? Mischievous? They came in such diversity that it was clear no one really knew what made a fairy.

But I was a lover of fairy tales and I deeply, passionately, madly loved fairies. I just didn’t know where to find them. Or really believe that they, you know, existed. But I wanted them to, and I couldn’t think of a reason why they shouldn’t exist, if only I knew what they were and where they were.

Which brings me to a book which has been sitting on my bedside table for months, waiting for me to have a chance to read it: Fairy Spell: How Two Girls Convinced the World That Fairies Are Real, by Marc Tyler Nobleman, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler.

Fairy Spell.jpg

First thing to note: I knew of the Cottingley Fairies, of course, because… fairies. As has been established, I knew and loved fairies and read all about them. Including the famous so-called hoax. I didn’t like the story, though, because it all seemed to circle around “how could Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have been taken in by a couple of girls?” Which seemed to me to be the wrong question to ask.

Second thing to note: Despite my reservations about the Cottingley Fairies story, I was at my local children’s book shop and they had this on display and I fell for it. Hard. The cover was so tender and so beautiful, and the title wasn’t calling it a hoax and seemed respectful… and, let’s be honest, this is a pretty, pretty book. I bought it.

(Newsflash: Deborah Falls in Love with Book and Buys It; Nobody Registers Surprise.)

Well, after I finished a chunk of writing, I cleared up the pile of books which have been waiting for me and this one surfaced again. I read it. And I’m totally, completely, 100% in love. This book, and I do not say so lightly, totally understands about fairies, and I’d just say that Marc Nobleman and Eliza Wheeler get it! They don’t talk down to the reader. They don’t pat those two clever girls, Elsie and Frances, at Cottingley on the head. They don’t sneer at Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for believing in fairies. They get it. Add to that that the aesthetic of the book is stunning in its own right and perfectly suited to the gentle yet strong story of the two girls and the women they became, and you have, I believe, a perfect book of its kind.

The question is how Marc Nobleman wove a story which so encapsulated a famous “hoax” without ever calling it a hoax or imputing that the girls were out to make mischief while so brilliant a man as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was taken in by their machinations.

What Nobleman did which was so very, very simple, and very, very clever, was to listen to the girls and talk about them, rather than talk about the history of photography, Doyle’s peculiarities, or any of the other numerous angles I’ve seen on this story. He never once says that “fairies are real” or, conversely, that “the girls were out to hoax people,” but instead gently recounts the fun that the girls had together at Cottingley and outlines their motivation for photographing the fairies. Gradually, the story of the fairies grows, outgrowing the girls’ probable intentions, and when it reaches the ears of Doyle, it explodes. The girls stand by their story (in part, he suggests, so as not to embarrass Doyle), and only later in life, after the death of Doyle, do they explain the full story… almost. In fact, it seems that the younger of the girls, Frances, never really made it clear whether or not she maybe did believe in fairies… just a little.

I love how Nobleman treats Elsie and Frances with perfect respect, never imputing any malice or even mischievous intent to their actions. I love how the art mirrors and amplifies this respect. I love how he never looks down his nose at Doyle. I love how he builds a new story out of the old one, a story which never denigrates belief in fairies, or the desire to believe in fairies, and which even demonstrates a kind of respect for that desire. Altogether, I think this is a beautiful account of the creativity and brilliance of two little girls enjoying a summer in a lovely corner of the world– and who enjoyed playing with the fairies, whether the fairies knew it or not.