I have been forcing myself to keep reading though, because when all else fails it is reading something hauntingly beautiful, evocative and magical that will most likely get my own creative juices flowing again. I have two books I need to share with you today, because it would be wrong to keep them to myself!
The Folk Keeper
by Franny Billingsley
Wow. How has this book not come up on my radar before? It's never been on a 'recommended' list, I've never seen it mentioned by other fairytale/folklore enthusiasts and when I have actively searched for new books to read it has never appeared...this needs to change! I can't believe I only discovered it by chance, casually browsing someone's wish list on Read It Swap It! Sorry, sorry, I'll stop ranting now...
Here's a blurb:
...Corinna Stonewall is a 15-year-old orphan who possesses a dangerous gift. She is a Folk Keeper, responsible for absorbing the attack of the savage Folk who dwell in the cellars of the Foundling Home where she lives, disguised as a boy. Through observing the correct rituals and by making careful sacrifices of choice food, she can prevent the Folk from spoiling the milk and ruining the crops. However, there are many mysteries that Corinna does not understand about herself. Where are her parents? Why does her hair grow two inches every night? Why does she long for the taste of raw fish?...Billingley's eloquent style is a joy for adults and evokes such an atmosphere of fear and longing that readers of all ages will keep turning the pages eagerly. Ages 10+ (Kirkus UK)
This book impressed me on a number of levels, one of which was simply because it involves Selkies. I haven't come across too many of them (most stories about mythical sea creatures tend to feature mermaids), and loved how they, and the other Folk, were only referred to in the vaguest sense, letting the imagination fill in the gaps and also allowing for the fact that we all know, really, on some level what Selkies and Folk are, and don't need it spelling out.
The language was intoxicating, with a rhythm and subtlety that is hard to find in books (primarily) aimed at children, but which I feel makes them all the more special - the sort of book you remember with a deeper fondness as an adult.
I think the length is also worth mentioning: it's short. And this is very good. I think it is the perfect length for a story that is expanding on traditional folk tales, because it is able to retain 'that feeling', the one that keeps you captivated and enchanted. The longer a book gets the more complex it becomes, there are more characters, more devices, just more, and whilst I'm not in any way slating longer books that retell or recapture fairytales (seriously, I love them) I do feel that they lose something of the magic you feel from a short tale.
To begin, the blurb:
Prue McKeel is keeping out of trouble. Or trying to. Then her baby brother is abducted by crows and hauled off to the woods beyond the city. It is up to Prue to bring him back. On her mission she is plunged into the world of Wildwood and there she meets more trouble - and magic - than she ever thought possible.This book is a gem. It's a book that did come up on my radar, and is popular enough to be in my local library, so I wouldn't be surprised if more people recognise it!
After all my posts about the forest and re-inspiring the next generation to fall in love with them, this book answers the call. I don't know whether the author suggested this intentionally or not, but the fact that the inhabitants of the town have never dared venture into the woods and are scared to go in could easily be a reflection on how out of touch we are in general with the natural world.
But when we do venture into the woods, wow, so much magic and joy; Wildwood felt like a modern version of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe with amazing and diverse characters and such a cleverly woven plot. Again, this is another book with rich language and beautiful imagery that sadly seems rare in children's books nowadays - this book will not allow you to read it quickly, you have to go at a certain pace to savour the language it is so rich (I'm really not exaggerating, I tried to speed up so I didn't have to renew it with the library and felt like I was being mentally tripped up as punishment!)
I also want to quickly mention the artwork: it definitely brings to life the 'folk' element of the novel, and should be savoured as much as the words. Having pictures in children's books is not the done thing above a certain age range, but this isn't 'patronising' in the least, nor does it take away from the beauty of the words - they complement each other perfectly.