September’s father has gone off to war and her mother works all day building airplane engines while September stays home and washes the china teacups. Life in Omaha is disappointingly dull for such an imaginative and adventurous (and heartless!) 12-year old girl… until the day September looks out the kitchen window to see the Green Wind perched on his flying leopard and beckoning her to Fairyland.
There are many wonders to see in Fairyland: witches, werewolves, fairies, flying bicycles, animated furniture, spriggans, glashtyn, marids, a fabric city, a golem molded from soap, and a red wyverary (a wyvern whose father is a municipal library). If you have read Catherynne Valente before, you can imagine the kinds of wonderful creatures you’ll meet in The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making… or, actually, maybe you can’t!)
But all is not as it should be in Fairyland. The Marquess, who’s only a child, is quite the little tyrant, and she’s got a job for September. During her quest, September explores Fairyland and learns a lot about courage, honor, friendship, and love.
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland is Catherynne Valente’s first young adult novel and, as Valente fans will expect, it’s gorgeous in every way. The story is fun and the characters and plot will appeal to children, but this book goes far beyond most modern children’s fantasy literature. It’s most comparable to Alice in Wonderland; Like Lewis Carroll’s classic, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland is intelligent, beautifully written, packed with imagination, and full of thoughtful and charming ideas (often pointed out by the delightfully intrusive narrator) that give depth and charisma and make this children’s story more than easily-forgotten entertainment:
- All children are heartless. They have not grown a heart yet, which is why they can climb tall trees and say shocking things and leap so very high that grown-up hearts flutter in terror. Hearts weigh quite a lot. That is why it takes so long to grow one. But, as in their reading and arithmetic and drawing, different children proceed at different speeds. (It is well known that reading quickens the growth of a heart like nothing else.)
- Stories have a way of changing faces. They are unruly things, undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers. That is why we must close them up into thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble.
- As all mothers know, children travel faster than kisses. The speed of kisses is, in fact, what Dr. Fallow would call a cosmic constant. The speed of children has no limits.
I listened to The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making on audio (Brilliance Audio). It was read by Ms. Valente herself and, though she is not a voice actor and didn’t give each character a unique and distinguishable voice, she was quite pleasant. I like hearing an author interpret her own work as long as she has an agreeable voice and prosody, which Ms. Valente does. My only issue with the audio version is that I missed Ana Juan’s lovely art that introduces each chapter in the print version. Oh, audiobook publishers, why can’t we have the art, too?