The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
Can’t you just tell from the title that this children’s book is an absolute delight? Valente takes a familiar structure, the child who travels to a fantasy world, and makes it feel fresh with bizarre images, clever language and little genre-savvy . Some of my favorite moments in the book were the metafictional ones, where the characters showed that they were aware of themselves as part of a narrative:
“if we act like the kind of folk who would find a Fairy city whilst on various adventures involving tricksters, magical shoes, and hooliganism, it will come to us.”
at least, she had thought, she had not eaten Fairy food! At least, she had managed better than most little girls in stories who are repeatedly told not to eat the food but do it anyway, being extravagantly silly and stupid!
As you can see, this is a great book to read aloud to a child. The brave protagonist September is an admirable girl who overcomes self-doubt and fear, as well as a perfect reader’s avatar. The technicolor visual images and the slightly unsettling mood reminded me of the movie Pan’s Labyrinth. Valente creates a light, whimsical tone that is tinged throughout with melancholy and puzzlement, with some wordplay that reminded me a little of Alice in Wonderland and The Phantom Tollbooth. Here’s a sentence that I think encapsulates the book’s style:
Those were all big words, to be sure, but as has been said, September read often, and liked it best when words did not pretend to be simple, but put on their full armor and rode out with colors flying.
There was a truly great twist at the end that reminded me of The Magician King, one of my favorite books of last year. In a way I can see this book as a children’s version of that one, or as something a child might read so that someday he’ll be ready to read The Magician King. I’m making all these comparisons because I think this book deserves a place on the shelf next to the other great children’s fantasy books. I’m just thrilled that there’s a sequel.