Do you ever get cravings, readerly cravings? I do. Sometimes they’re easy to satisfy because they’re broad and general: humour, wistfulness, or whimsy. Sometimes they’re much, much harder: “I want the experience of reading Joan Aiken for the first time again.”
Dream on, girl.
Well, guess what I wanted? I wanted a fairy tale. But not just any fairy tale! A fairy tale that was truthful within its own world, felt old but was new and original, and had a perfect balance of serious need, magic, and practicality.
Whew, quite a laundry list! (And yes, doesn’t that sound awfully like A Necklace of Raindrops?)
But I satisfied my craving:
Courtesy of Kenneth Kraegel by way of Candlewick, Wild Honey from the Moon, a fairy tale for any age.
It’s an interesting book in that it’s long for a picture book, short for a chapter book, simple in diction but elevated in style. So who is the audience? (Apart from me, that is!) Candlewick says ages 4-8, preschool to Grade 3. I think that’s right, but that’s an interesting jump in ages, I want to encourage everyone to give it a go, especially for a family read in the evening.
The story is very family-oriented: a mother shrew worries about her sick son, Hugo. She consults her medical book and it calls for one teaspoon of wild honey from the moon. So she tells Hugo she has to go to the moon to get him what she needs, she grabs her umbrella and, defying all sorts of dangers, she goes to get wild honey from the moon. I won’t spoil all of her adventures for you, but you know as well as I do that a mother who loves her child will do what is necessary– and this mother shrew does.
The book is a true fairy tale: truthful within its own lore (to get wild honey from the moon, you have to, well, go to the moon!) and truthful to any reader (suffice it to say: owls hunt shrews). It is also practical: a mother in a hurry does what she needs to do and gets frustrated by any delay– OK, I may not personally have bitten an owl trying to hunt me when I was getting my child wild honey from the moon, but I have lost my cool once or twice, haven’t you?
What I love, however, is that this is, as I said, both a fairy tale and family-oriented. It is not alone in being a fairy tale with a quest for a life-saving medicine, as any reader of fairy tales knows! Nor is it alone in telling the story of a mother protecting a child. Both of these are common fairy tale motifs.
However, a child-oriented picture book demonstrating an urgent mother on a quest for a miraculous remedy for a mysterious ailment for her child in true fairy tale form is new to me, let alone one as beautifully illustrated in ink and watercolours as this is. Moreover, by taking it out of human form, rendering it all as an animal story, Kenneth Kraegel tells a fairy tale out of the usual cultural pigeonholes.
I have to admit that I picked it up on a whim, to satisfy my craving, from the Brookline Booksmith. I will also confess that I was completely judging a book by its cover. But, having read it, I want to encourage families everywhere to read it. Every mother with a sick child should read it before heading out to the pharmacy for another dose of Tylenol for the kidlet. Every child lying feverish in bed should read it and feel warmed by the maternal love.
And everyone, everywhere, who needs a new fairy tale quest story with a gutsy mama shrew saving her child’s life (isn’t that all of us?) needs to curl up, put a spoonful of honey in their tea, and read.