Tracy Kane, Fairy Houses (Great White Dog Picture Company, 2001)
Tracy Kane, Fairy Boat (Great White Dog Picture Company, 2002)
There is much to praise in Tracy Kane's Fairy Houses and Fairy Boat. Both picture books are gorgeously illustrated with many beautiful images from nature. Both are competently written, though it's obvious to me that Tracy Kane is an artist first and a writer second. Both books are hopeful and positive, and encourage children to believe that anything is possible. Still, there are significant problems with each.
In Fairy Houses, Kristen and her family take a vacation away from the city to a wooded island off the coast of Maine. There are many amazing things to see and do on the island, but the best part of the trip for Kristen is the discovery of a little fairy house village in the woods near the cottage she and her parents are staying in. For a long time now, visitors to the island have been building little miniature houses in the hopes that fairies may make homes of them. The only rules are that the houses must be built only of natural, but non-living materials. Kristen is eager to get started. Once her house is built, Kristen checks on it every day, hoping to spot a fairy.
The problem with Fairy Houses is that the best audience for it is too old to appreciate a picture book. Kristen's age is unstated, but from her appearance and the high level of freedom and independence she enjoys, I would guess she's about 10. She's old enough to build a lovely fairy house on her own and to wander unfamiliar woods unaccompanied by an adult, but still young enough to believe that fairies might actually visit it. The book also serves a secondary, instructional purpose which younger children cannot take advantage of. This magical story would be better told in a format that would appeal to middle readers, rather than the four to eight year olds who are most interested in picture books.
In Fairy Boat we meet Kristen's friend Chelsea, who has built a toy sailboat with her grandparents and named it "Fairy Boat" with the hope that a fairy might be tempted to hitch a ride on it. Unfortunately, on its maiden voyage some animals chase the "Fairy Boat" out of Chelsea's reach and down the river to the sea. At home, Chelsea is sad about losing her sailboat, but hopeful that the fairies will protect it and she will find it again.
Fairy Boat is advertised as a companion to Fairy Houses, but is really a very different book. My 2-year-old son who has no interest in Fairy Houses asks me to read Fairy Boat almost every day. The little girl in this book is the same age as Kristen, but the story about a little boat braving the elements holds greater appeal for much younger children. But as much as my little one loves this book, and as lovely as it is, there is one thing which bothers me every time I read it. Chelsea's grandparents are pessimists. In the face of their granddaughter's hope that her boat will survive and somehow be returned to her, the grandparents tell her over and over again how unlikely that is to happen. This doesn't seem to bother my son, and does help the story along, but it doesn't feel real, and is distinctly out of place in a book with such a hopeful end message.
My conclusion about these books is that they are not the matched set they at first appear to be. There are precious few juvenile picture books about fairies, and that alone is reason enough to have these on your shelf. Beyond that, each book contains positive messages, and the illustrations are truly captivating; but they are simply not for the same child.
For more information on fairy houses and author/illustrator Tracy Kane, visit this Web site.