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The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication date: May 10, 2011
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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.
With exquisite illustrations by acclaimed artist Ana Juan, Fairyland lives up to the sensation it created when the author 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.
I read this as a read-aloud to my daughter. After recently finishing Furthermore, it was difficult not to compare the two since they both were heavily influenced by Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. This book, in many ways, is far more like Alice though since the main character, September, is a "real" girl from Omaha whereas Furthermore's world is not Earth/ours.
The iconic Alice in Wonderland "stumbled" onto Wonderland. In... well, this book (I'm not going to name its uber long title each time I reference it), September is a "ravished" child, i.e., she was invited by a resident of Fairyland to go and she accepted. These distinctions, along with a third 'changling" category, make a difference in how a child in Fairyland is treated and how they might get back home (or not) and how they might ever return again to Fairyland again (or not). Without giving away too much, therein lies the heart of this tale. Given the five books plus a prequel in the Fairyland series, you can guess some of September's future in Fairyland.
It is a very colorful world and an extraordinarily confusing place. September is a "chosen one" of sorts, come to help free Fairyland from the tyrannical reign of a girl not unlike September herself, the Marquess. September is faced with many choices along the way that could have led her to just a jolly romp in Fairyland or could lead her to peril, adventure and possibly greatness. In the end, she chooses her new friends above all else and that path definitely leads her on adventure.
There are some moments of grave peril in the book but September keeps a pretty cool head about her. I think even a sensitive child will be able to manage the dangers in the book without too much fear... they just need to keep on reading or listening a while longer. Not danger or peril, but a sad tale in the book is what was most upsetting to my 9 yo daughter and she did need some extra snuggles after that part.
My daughter and I really enjoyed this book. I think it makes a great read aloud but I also think kids could navigate this book on their own successfully. Miss R is excited to read the next book in the series. I would recommend it for ages 8 to 10ish. Children generally like to read about characters a little older and September is 12. This can be a tight rope to walk at this age and I think the author made September realistically 12 while keeping the content appropriate for the 8-10 yo reader. At nearly 70,000 words, it is on the long side for a middle grade book but you often see this in fantasy books in order to accomplish good world building. World building is well done in (deep breath) The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. I recommend it!
Miss R's review
The girl is in a land where there were basically no rules, but the Marquess changed that. The Marquess wanted the land to be safe for all the children who went to Fairyland. She sent September on a quest but wanted September to fail.
I really liked September and A-through-L (Ell). I also liked Saturday and the Green Wind. September was very creative, even in the saddest parts. Saturday was a scaredy-cat but he still was very nice and helps save the day. A-through-L has a really creative name and he also is a wyvern and very smart (but only on anything from letters A to L). The Green Wind I liked because he was green and very comforting to September. He also has the Leopard of Little Winds, a flying cat.
It was a good book. It was a little sad at parts near the end. It was cheery after that though. I would recommend it to anyone who likes adventures and who doesn't really mind just a small section of sad.