The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
Catherynne M. Valente
Feiwel & Friends/Macmillian, 2011 247 pages
Fairyland series #1
An original fairy tale charts the adventures of September, a Nebraskan girl longing for adventure. A Green Wind blows in one day promising just that, but she must leave immediately. Of course September agrees and the two ride away to Fairy Land atop of a flying leopard. After learning the cryptic rules of Fairy Land September is allowed to enter. Once inside she has dazzling experiences and meets many new friends, including a trio of witches (one of whom may be a Wairwulf), a book loving Wyvern ( a cross between a dragon and a library), a blue boy named Saturday, a magic lantern, and a host of other incredible creatures. On a mission from the witches to capture a magical object from the current ruler, the Marquess, September is lured by this evil ruler to embrace a new quest that will benefit the selfish monarch. Adventure ensues and September and her new friends face challenges, separation, and strife (including independently circumnavigating Fairy Land as the title implies) before the thrilling conclusion where September must rely on both her wits and her brawn to escape from danger unharmed with her companions. Mysteries are solved by book's end, including the identity of the evil Marquess and the whereabouts of the missing beloved ruler, Good Queen Mallow. The Green Wind returns September to her mid-western home, only to discover that very little time has passed. Her adventures continue in four additional volumes.
Valente draws from other modern children's classic influences such as Frank L. Baum, Norton Juster and C.S. Lewis to create an original, yet familiar feeling, fairy tale. A fellow-midwesterner, September experiences a Dorthy Gale-esque adventure as she picks up new friends, confronts evil rules, and follows a quest to save herself and her new companions. Valente does not cheap out on her language and writes beautifully and lyrically, often creating new creatures and terms. Much like The Phantom Tollbooth, the book sometimes was a bit "talky" for me, making it more of a choice for patient readers or as a read-aloud. The chapter titles have intriguing wordy headings, much like the book's title and attractive pencil illustrations, contributed by Ana Juan, add further interest. Even though the title clearly states that the main character is a girl, she is fierce and interesting and readers of both genders will enjoy this story. Reading this book feels both comforting and old-fashioned, yet with new concepts and original ideas. Smart kids with big imaginations are clearly the audience and will find much to sink their teeth into with this title.