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The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. By Catherynne M. Valente.

Advanced language/themes: ages 10 to 14 suggested.

First book in a 5-part series.

There are lots of things to love about The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland. I’ve always been a huge fan of classic escape to fairyland stories, from Peter Pan to Harry Potter, and this book includes a lot of the best elements of those stories: fascinating magical creatures, daring adventures, and a villain worthy of hate. It’s also great because its main character is a girl, and Valente has some fun playing with the gender tropes of traditional fantasy stories. The protagonist, September, is instantly likeable. She’s smart, resourceful, and selfless, but she’s also very human – she has flaws and doubts just like every kid does.

September is spirited away to Fairyland by the Green Wind and his magic leopard. There, she meets witches, a wyverary (almost a dragon, but not quite), and a boy genie, among many other crazy creatures. They’re all under the harsh rule of a bureaucratic queen who needs September’s help. September’s adventures bring her to new friends and delightfully imaginative places.

There are jokes in here that are definitely for the parents. The language play is reminiscent of The Phantom Tollbooth, but might be a bit more advanced – younger kids aren’t likely to get it even if it’s explained. There are also a few gags – like September ending up in a town populated by perpetual grad student gnomes and being almost forced to enroll in higher education – that will be over the little people’s heads. But the scenery is cool enough, the story exciting enough, and the Evil Queen mean enough, that everyone will want to keep reading.

Just a warning: Valente doesn’t shy away from putting her heroes through a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. When September cuts herself or breaks a bone, it’s described in detail. She and her friends are also often in real danger. Although kids 10 and younger will be able to understand and like the story, I’d only recommend it if they’re okay with some moderate violence and scary stuff.

TLDR

Things to love:

  • Plays with language like The Phantom Tollbooth
  • Fearless female heroine
  • Offers an escape to another land as in Harry Potter, Narnia, or Peter Pan
  • Jokes that are definitely for the parents

Things to look out for:

  • Scary moments/moderate violence

Reviewed by: Charlotte Kidd