Monday, April 29, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: The Fairy Ring; or, Elsie and Frances fool the world by Mary Losure

In the 1920s, people believed in fairies. Or at least the Theosophists, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, did. Their belief was helped along by a series of photographs taken by two young girls, showing delicate, transparent fairies.

One girl, Frances, saw little green men and delicate flying fairies. She told her older cousin, Elsie, who thought it would be a good joke to take some pictures, so she painted and cut out fairies and with the help of some hatpins and a borrowed camera they took the photos that would become famous.

It's hard to look back at these photos from a modern perspective and see how people were so easily fooled, but the theme that runs through this story is that people see what they want to see. The Theosophists already believed in fairies and were just looking for the proof of what they already "knew".  Mary Losure tells the story of two girls, one who believed in fairies and one who just wanted to prove her artistic ability and the photos that became unexpectedly famous.

The book includes a lot of original documents, mostly letters, and there's additional information in the bibliography and author's note. This is pretty short for a nonfiction chapter book, under 200 pages, including back matter, but it's really a fairly brief story. Although the cousins gave some interviews near the end of their lives and they have living descendants, there's really not that much information on their lives as children.

I have a hard time thinking of an audience for this story, at least at my library. All my fairy fans are little girls in love with pink sparkles and my history buffs are generally boys who want books about war. It's not exciting or funny enough to appeal to the kids who would normally like a book about a good hoax. One of the big appeals of this story is the connection to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and while I'm guessing quite a few kids are vaguely familiar with Sherlock due to the various movies and television shows, I don't think many of them know much about the creator.

Verdict: This could work if booktalked for its haunting, mysterious quality and the odd bits about the story - did Frances really see fairies? What about the final photograph that the girls didn't pose for? - but it's not something I can see having wide appeal. It has gotten a lot of enthusiastic reviews, so I may be wrong, but it seems like a niche book that needs a bigger library than mine to find its niche.

ISBN: 9780763656706; Published 2012 by Candlewick; Borrowed from another library in my consortium


Anonymous said...

It looks interesting to me, but I'm a grown up and would never hear about it or find it at the library if I didn't follow kids' book blogs.

But if this was faced out on a "new books" display, I would check it out. Those displays almost always get me to read something new.

Ms. Yingling said...

It is really an adult book; that's what I have decided. I liked it but also struggled with audience.

Resh said...

Sounds interesting but you are right about audience. A difficult subject to place but it perked my ears when you mentioned Arthur Conan Doyle :)Thanks for sharing on NF Monday!

Anonymous said...

I haven't read this one yet, but I love that the publisher decided to take a chance on it. (Probably because I tend to choose topics--as a writer and as a reader--that have niche audiences, too!)

I'm looking forward to checking this one out myself. Thanks for the review!


shelf-employed said...

I reviewed a book by Mary Losure today, too, Wild Boy: Real Life of the Savage of Aveyron. It is also a strange and true tale with a link to a famous author, Victor Hugo. I really enjoyed it, and I would definitely be interested in reading The Fairy Ring, but I agree that it's sometimes difficult to find the right audience for a book. Booktalking is always a great idea.