Last week, on a rainy afternoon, I felt like painting and adding some color to the dreary day. I wanted to try the salt technique I had recently read about.* M was definitely NOT interested in my suggestion. So, I went ahead without her. Once she saw the dynamic of color and water change with a mere sprinkle of such a basic element, she wanted to join in. How I missed this cool trick in six years of painting with M, I do not know. I found our stack of dried paintings this morning. I didn’t notice it last week, but she included some stars in her painting; stars that she only learned how to draw just days before. But the smiling girl? That’s always a constant in her art.
This past summer M (just shy of six at the time) was interested in reading longer books like early chapter books. It can be a bit challenging, at times, to find the right books for her right now. She’s reading a few dozen sight words on her own, but the stories in books for early readers using many of those words are not that engaging to her. They have their importance in learning how to read (i.e. decode), but it’s really not what she wants. She wants a story. Picture books still hold a large part of her attention, but many of them are much shorter than she’d like. Comprehension and attention span wise, she is quite capable of listening to some pretty complex stories, and so we seem to be drifting into chapter book territory more and more. Though, quite honestly, I think the recommended age range for some of the books we’ve been reading has been for 6-8 or 7-9 year olds, and I’m probably pushing the envelope sometimes (more so with the subject matter than the language; sometimes you just don’t know until you’re halfway through a book that it probably could have waited another 6-12 months). She turned six on the first day of Kindergarten so, in many cases, she’s been having books read to her almost a full year more than many of her classmates, and has already gone through some that others might just be getting to. It’s a balance to find something that interests her but that is not inappropriate for her age.*
But, in an effort to start reading longer stories that appealed to her, we gave this book a try over the summer: The Fairy Bell Sisters: Rosy and the Secret Friend, written by Margaret McNamara, illustrated by Julia Denos. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it’s actually the second book in the series, though it didn’t ultimately matter that we read it out of order.
Here’s the skinny. This series, which I now see has four books in total (the fourth will be released on 12/31/2013), tells the story about Tinker Bell’s five younger fairy sisters, one of which is toddler-aged, whom all live together on Sheepskerry Island. Each book in the series, it seems, highlights a predicament of one of the older, school-aged sisters and how they work it out. In Rosy and the Secret Friend, it tells the tale of Rosy befriending a human girl, which is a no-no for fairies. I won’t give away the story’s ending, but the book did hold M’s attention throughout the entire book and she begged often for “just one more chapter, please?”
Last week we started and finished the first book in the series, Sylva and the Fairy Ball. This one features Sylva, who’s about to turn eight (which, it so happens, is the age that a fairy must be to be invited to the Fairy Ball hosted by Queen Mab) and really wants to attend the Fairy Ball with her older sisters. The Fairy Ball, naturally, is the day before Sylva is supposed to turn eight, and so she is upset that she cannot go. You will have to read for yourself whether the age limit ultimately stops her from trying to attend.
The books are, in a word, cute. The story lines are pretty straightforward, with a conflict that must be resolved. As an adult, I knew exactly where the stories were headed, but M really did not. This tells me they are good for her age because they were interesting, entertaining and not predictable. The only minor hurdle for M, at the very beginning, was keeping the characters’ names straight because there are five speaking characters (which is a lot more than most books that kids at this age read up until this point). By the middle of the first book we read, she was able to keep them straight.
At the tender age of six, M is completely into the idea of fairies and I think this is why these stories ultimately appeal to her. Unlike Santa or the Easter Bunny, M has not once questioned whether fairies are real. Even if she has any doubt, she has not expressed it to us. I think this is because she really wants them to be real. Though I’m not sure how much longer that innocence and belief in fairies (and their magic) will last now that she’s being exposed to older, wiser kids in elementary school. We tell her the truth if she asks questions about these kinds of things, yet I think that even if the fairy myth becomes exposed before we finish the series (which we will), she will like these books nonetheless because the characters are very likeable and good-hearted. They are the kind of girls that I am positive M would love to have as friends.
The sketch illustrations are good but not anything remarkable because of how they are presented in the book, which is quite minimally. At best, they give the chapters and text a little break here and there, and let young, fairy-loving readers see that there is more than Disney’s version of a fairy out there (which I think is a good thing to let kids see in this Disney-loving culture). But, to be honest, they are hard to see very well under bedtime reading light. I really wish they were more substantial or in color in the book because I think this illustrator has some talent that is not being featured as it should be.
All in all, a nice beginning, so far, in a series that features fairies and stories about doing the right thing. The perfect kind of read for the colder, shorter days ahead.
* Full disclosure: we’ve read her five of the Captain Underpants books, which, I know, are totally geared toward slightly older kids. I also know that there has been some discord about these books, at least among some parents, but I personally just don’t buy into many of the arguments that those opponents have made. I think I will save my thoughts on those books for another post.
Copyright (c) 2013 Kristen M. Ploetz
I’m sitting here, in a post-blueberry pancake breakfast haze (courtesy of E, my husband), all aglow with too much maple syrup and coffee. I look over and see yet another hour, among hundreds, between M and her dad just playing with the ponies. In the background, the Beastie Boys are belting a favorite from the mid-80s. I’m struck by the nexus of past and present, hers, mine, and ours. Ponies, good music, on-the-floor playing and love. The classics—the good things—always have staying power, don’t they?