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Fairy, fairy, are you there?

Fairy, fairy, are you there?
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First Published: Sat, May 03 2008. 12 05 AM IST

The Fairies of Nutfolk Wood: By Barb Bentler Ullman, Katherine Tegen Books  (HarperCollins imprint), 243 pages, Rs160
The Fairies of Nutfolk Wood: By Barb Bentler Ullman, Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins imprint), 243 pages, Rs160
Updated: Sat, May 03 2008. 12 05 AM IST
The Fairies of Nutfolk Wood: By Barb Bentler Ullman, Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins imprint), 243 pages, Rs160
I was always the kid who liked art. I drew, painted and doodled all my life. I liked to write, too, but I knew I could never record the staggering number of words that a book would require,” says Barb Bentler Ullman on her website. But she did go ahead and write her first book, The Fairies of Nutfolk Wood. And it has painting as a theme.
This is not staple Enid Blyton fare. Willa Jane and her mother Roberta come to live in the country near her uncle Andrew’s farm after her parents’ divorce. In the little town of Plunkit, which is more of a village, they buy a trailer to live in. Willa, who finds it difficult to get over the divorce and its aftermath, finds comfort in her trips to the forest surrounding their new home. She spends hours wandering about.
As the country life grows on them, Willa and her mother discover their neighbours in their adopted hometown. The little girl meets Hazel Wicket, an old woman, who lives down the path with her cat and without basic modern facilities such as electricity. Hazel and Willa become fast friends and Willa loves the old woman for her stories about fairies in Nutfolk Wood.
Willa can’t get enough of the stories and, at times, thinks she can see the fairies going about their lives in the forest—though, she is not sure if it is her imagination playing tricks or whether fairies actually exist. Determined to find out the truth, she enlists the help of Vincent Meeker, whose mother Rachel was Hazel’s close friend. Rachel would paint pictures of the wood, the most haunting of which is that of the Nutbone Stump amid the rolling greens with a cryptic title: Look Behind Nature’s Magic.
Willa’s fleeting encounters with what she thinks are the fairies only makes her more determined to get to the bottom of things— she also manages to unravel what Rachel’s mysterious message means. Ullman mixes up fantasy and reality quite well with just that bit of healthy scepticism about fairies and pixies. Till the end, the child is not sure if she should believe in fairies—or maybe just. Reality, in the form of post-divorce angst among children whose parents have separated, is treated sensibly, too.
After the string of books in the fantasy genre set in times that the reader possibly cannot relate to, The Fairies is a pleasant diversion. Declares Ullman on her site, “In my 40s, I forgot that I couldn’t write the number of words that a book would require. See, I figured I could write a page or two in the morning, and most likely I could write a page the next day. And I was pretty sure I could write something the day after that. So, I wrote The Fairies of Nutfolk Wood—one page at a time.” That’s probably one of the best ways to write a book.
The idea for Nutfolk Wood came from the author’s daughter: “My daughter Sara once came up with the idea for an American woodland fairy. She was glue-gunning acorns together and calling them ‘nut-babies’. They resided in pretty places in our woods, living quiet, natural lives. One thing led to another.”
The writer is the editor of Heek(www.e-heek.com), a children’s magazine.
Write to lounge@livemint.com
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First Published: Sat, May 03 2008. 12 05 AM IST