Great picture books for 3-6 year olds are plentiful in the world, much to my delight. I never expected to have so much fun discovering new authors and titles for kids, nor indeed in rediscovering favourites from my own childhood. There really is a magical and vast universe out there to explore in junior kidlit, and I've vastly enjoyed sailing on that ocean over the past five years or so.
Even in a generally strong field, though, there are stand-out titles, books that really grab children and adults alike with the freshness of their voice and the richness of their vision. One such title in our house is Bob Graham's 2003 story, Jethro Byrde, Fairy Child.
Jethro Byrde is based on the simple and often-used conceit that only children (and the child-like at heart) can see fairies, who might be anywhere at all. What sets this book apart is that the little girl who sees the fairies, Annabelle, spots them amongst the weeds and concrete in an inner-city neighbourhood, rather than the traditional woodlands-and-tinkling-waterfalls setting; and, more, the nature of the fairies themselves. For Jethro Byrde, fairy child, and his family (father Offin, mother Lily, baby Cecily, and Grandma) are Fairy Travellers, on their way to the Fairy Traveller's picnic in their roadside hot dog van. In his jeans and backwards baseball cap, Jethro doesn't look like a conventional fairy, but it's soon clear that he and his family are going to bring some wonder and delight into Annabelle's concrete world.
There is so much to like about this story - the illustrations are beautiful, the rhythm is just right, the characters are enormously appealing, and the themes are so gentle and lovely. My girls have always had an especial fondness for the ending, where Annabelle falls asleep clutching Jethro's fairy watch and listening to the stream of fairy travellers in the sky outside her window. On that last page, "long after she fell asleep, their busy chattering and the buzzing of their wings and their faraway music filled her dreams."
Fairies can be anywhere, in any shape or size, in any guise, if your mind's eye is open to them. This charming book is a favourite for speaking this so clearly to my little girls.
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