Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Book Review: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

BookThe Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente, Feiwel and Friends, 2011, 247 pages.
Source:  purchased.

This is a book I bought simply for the title - I thought it had to be good!  It involves a girl going to Fairlyland, sounds good, and she makes her own ship, even better, she is active and can fend for herself.  And then there is the cover, absolutely gorgeous and promises an enchanting book.  I certainly was not disappointed.

The story starts with twelve year old September at home, bored with washing dishes and her ordinary life in Omaha - her father has left to go to war (WWI) and her mother works in the factory.  The Green Wind sweeps in and offers to carry her off to Fairyland:
"You seem an ill-tempered and irascible enough child," said the Green Wind.  "How would you like to come away with me and ride upon the Leopard of Little Breezes and be delivered to the great sea, which borders Fairyland?  I am afraid I cannot go in, as Harsh Airs are not allowed, but I should be happy to deposit you upon the Perverse and Perilous Sea."
"Oh yes!" breathed September... (p.2)
And so September begins her adventures in Fairyland. 

In Fairyland, September makes friends, especially with a Wyverary (half Wyvern and half library) named A-Through-L and a blue Marid boy named Saturday, amongst others.  September is forced to go on a quest for the Marquess, a girl around her own age who governs Fairyland with strange rules and is feared by all.

This is a well told story, with an omnipotent narrator who frequently talks directly to the reader and lets them in on things that the characters do not know.  There is a fun, Victorian, Alice in Wonderland air to the book which creates an old fashioned feel.  The vocabulary and description used by the author is rich and wonderful, adding to the magic and whimsical nature of the book while successfully transporting the reader to Fairyland.  I also loved the quirky humour.

The characters are interesting and different and they even have great names.  I loved and was totally engaged with September, how she was a bit heartless, but at the same time loyal, eager for adventure, and brave.

I found this was a book that I did not want to rush through; I read it slowly so as to savour it.  The book was a bit meandery, and I wanted to meander through it.  That is not to say it was slow - there was lots of action and held my interest well - but the sentences were so rich and the chapters so full that I wanted to soak them up.  I found I almost didn't want to read the last two chapters because I did not want the story to end.

Here are some of my favourite quotes that do not include spoilers.  These are examples of sentences I stopped and re-read simply to enjoy them again.
"Well... what do witches do, then?"  September refused to feel foolish.  It was hard enough for a human to get into Fairyland.  True stories must be nearly impossible to get out.    (p. 30)
"I can't stop," the shark rasped.  "If I stop, I shall sink and die.  That's the way I'm made.  I have to keep going always, and even when I get where I'm going, I'll have to keep on.  That's living." (p. 193)
And then there is the art!  Each chapter is accompanied by a lovely drawing by Ana Juan.  These were perfect for the story, and can be seen in the book trailer below, which I also thoroughly enjoyed.

I would highly recommend this book to middle school children who love adventure and don't mind some challenging vocabulary, but also to adults who love fairy tales.  This is definitely one I will read to my kids and they will probably want to stay up half the night trying to get me to read just one more chapter to find out what happens next.


  1. What a beautiful header on your blog.

    I wanted to stop by and say thanks for commenting on my review of The Language of Flowers.




  2. I'm seen a lot about this book a lot in the last few days. But, I hadn't heard of it until then. It sounds right up my alley. I'll have to take a look. Thanks for the review and thanks for stopping by my blog earlier! :)

  3. There seems to have been a huge plug for the book lately, lots of contests to win a copy. My review was coincidental. It is a fun and magical book.


I really appreciate your comments.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.