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The girl who circumnavigated Fairyland in a ship of her own making
Fiction/Biography Profile
September (Girl), Father went to war; invited to an adventure with Green Wind in Fairyland;
Young adult fiction
Omaha -
Large Cover Image
Trade Reviews

  New York Times Review

Two books celebrate paradox and the transformative power of storytelling. A TIGER lies on the parquet floor of a deserted room, telling lies to a newly awakened stone statue: Long ago, the tiger says, he had a family, but he was shot and stuffed with straw, and glass baubles were sewn where his eyes had been. Later, however, he says he was made in a factory out of artificial fibers. Which story is true? The statue, a girl named Faith who is holding a book, can't say. She doesn't know who she is or where she's from, whether she's always been made of stone or whether she's under a spell. All she knows is that she is awake, and she listens to the carpet's tales. The tiger carpet's stories contradict each other, but, the tiger says, "I prefer to think that they are all true at once." Reading "The Lying Carpet," is a dreamy experience - the language is lovely; the free verse has an offbeat rhythm; the illustrations are breathtaking - a strange blend of childlike cartoon, Moorish and Indian art, spot illustration and illuminated manuscript. But I fear kids will find "The Lying Carpet" maddening. For most middle-grade readers, truth is still just one thing. Still, as Faith makes a leap into reality and into a belief in the transformative power of storytelling, older readers may think of Kierkegaard's "Fear and Trembling" and "The Present Age" - the poetry, the paradoxes, the musings on leaps of faith, the need for passion and the awareness of self. I can see high school and college philosophy students finding endless discussion fodder in "The Lying Carpet"; it would be a great graduation gift for black-clad poetesses. It could be the new "Oh, the Places You'll Go," with less anapestic tetrameter and more death. Poetry and death also fill "The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland," which similarly seems an ill fit for its publisher's target audience. At first blush, it's a kids' book: September, a lonely 12-year-old girl in Omaha, meets the Green Wind, who whisks her off to Fairyland. She undertakes a quest to recover a witch's spoon stolen by an evil marquess and picks up a band of oddball friends along the way: a wyvern (like a dragon, but not), a marid (a sea jinni from Arabic folklore), a lantern that communicates by burning letters into its own panels. Resonances of Alice and Dorothy and "The Phantom Tollbooth," right? If only this book weren't so exhausting. Catherynne M. Valente unrolls string after string of "ands" - "doubloons and necklaces and crowns, pieces of eight and plates and bricks and long, glittering scepters"; "chanterelles and portobellos and oysters and wild crimson forest mushrooms"; "cobalt and ochre and silver and rose"; "gunk and crusty things and dirt and fear and knowing how bad things can get and what pain feels like." Adjectives and adverbs tumble down the page relentlessly and merrily in a glimmering, glistening cascade of too-muchness. Some people may love it; my people call it ungapatchka. VALENTE similarly stuffs the book with creatures from a smorgasbord of folklore: Spriggans, pookas, a gnome, nasnas, changelings, fey folk, selkies, hippogriffs, a jann, kobolds, glashtyns, hamadryads, tsukumogami! And a wairwulf. (Not a werewolf, a wairwulf.) I need a lie-down. And yet: the fantasy juggernauts Neil Gaiman and Peter S. Beagle have both raved about the book. And "Fairyland" does contain ravishing set pieces - an encounter with a golem made of soap, the word "truth" carved on her olive-green Castile forehead; a stampeding herd of flying Victorian high-wheel bicycles; a city creating itself out of fabric as September and company approach. Best of all, a feminist sensibility runs throughout, with pointed twists on gender roles. A male character gives a female knight a token with which to ride into battle. "Male" objects like swords and wrenches, and "female" objects like fancy shoes and kitchen spoons aren't quite what they seem. September herself is heroic and resourceful. There's a ton of grown-up humor - Valente mocks bureaucrats, Bergman and put-upon grad students, lost on kids but fun for oldsters. "Fairyland" truly comes alive whenever the evil marquess, a Nellie Oleson-like monster, shows up. In her first appearance, her celluloid image spots September in the audience, snarls, "You wicked little thief!" then burns a hole in the screen. Even kids who get lost in the language can appreciate a good Mean Girl. Children's books aren't always for children, and that's O.K. As Faith discovers in "The Lying Carpet," one should not think slightingly of the paradoxical, for the paradox is the source of the thinker's passion, and the thinker without a paradox is like a lover without feeling. Wait, maybe Kierkegaard said that. It's true either way. Marjorie Ingall writes about parenting for Tablet magazine.

  Publishers Weekly Review

Originally published in serialized form online (where it became the first e-book to win the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy), this glittering confection is Valente's first work for young readers. The book's appeal is crystal clear from the outset: this is a kind of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by way of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, made vivid by Juan's Tenniel-inflected illustrations. An omniscient narrator relates the absurd Fairyland adventures of 12-year-old September from Omaha, Neb. Valente seems more interested in crafting the individual episodes, and her narrator's moral observations thereon, than in September's overall quest to retrieve a witch's spoon from the terrible marquess of Fairyland. Homages abound-an echo of Tolkien here, a cameo by Lord Dunsany there, and a nod for Hayao Miyazaki, too, all without feeling derivative. It's an allusive playground for adults, but even though young readers won't catch every reference, those who thrill to lovingly wrought tales of fantasy and adventure (think McCaughrean or DiCamillo) will be enchanted. And though the pace is lackadaisical, it's just as well-it's the sort of book one doesn't want to end. Ages 10-14. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
<p>"One of the most extraordinary works of fantasy, for adults or children, published so far this century."--Time magazine, on the Fairyland series</p> <p>Twelve-year-old September lives in Omaha, and used to have an ordinary life, until her father went to war and her mother went to work. One day, September is met at her kitchen window by a Green Wind (taking the form of a gentleman in a green jacket), who invites her on an adventure, implying that her help is needed in Fairyland. The new Marquess is unpredictable and fickle, and also not much older than September. Only September can retrieve a talisman the Marquess wants from the enchanted woods, and if she doesn't . . . then the Marquess will make life impossible for the inhabitants of Fairyland. September is already making new friends, including a book-loving Wyvern and a mysterious boy named Saturday.</p> <p>With exquisite illustrations by acclaimed artist Ana Juan, Fairyland lives up to the sensation it created when author Catherynne M. Valente first posted it online. For readers of all ages who love the charm of Alice in Wonderland and the soul of The Golden Compass , here is a reading experience unto itself: unforgettable, and so very beautiful.</p> <p> The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is a Publishers Weekly Best Children's Fiction title for 2011.</p>
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