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'The Little Fairy Sister' is a real fairy story of Bridget's adventures among the wee people. She meets the most delightful little creatures: the Dragon-fly, the Kookaburra, the Lizard, the Teddy Bears, the Pelican, as well as the Mannikins, the Merman, and of course the Fairies.
This facsimile of The Little Fairy Sister, popular with children of the 1920s, has been reproduced by the National Library of Australia from an early edition of the book. Ida Rentoul Outhwaite's enchanting illustrations will appeal to children as much today as they did yesterday.
Ida Rentoul Outhwaite is one of the authors mentioned in Bottersnikes and Other Lost Things, which I reviewed here just recently. I had never heard of her until then, but I should have, because she was one of Australia’s preeminent author-illustrators of enchanting books for children in the first half of the 20th century.
First editions of The Little Fairy Sister – first published in 1923 – sell for hundreds of dollars but it’s possible to have a copy of this lovely book for any small person in your life who is besotted by fairies because the National Library of Australia has produced a facsimile edition, and it is beautiful.
It’s hard to believe but according to the Introduction by S.O.R. Ida Rentoul Outhwaite initially didn’t have enough confidence in herself to write the texts for her books: until the late 1920s she used to create the illustrations first and then her mother, sister or husband would write the story. The Little Fairy Sister was written by her husband Grenbry to complement the exquisite pictures that are so beautifully reproduced in this book. By the way. it’s not just little fairy-lovers who would admire it, anyone interested in pen-and-ink and watercolour illustration would find it an irresistible ‘collectible’ too.
The story is quaint and sentimental, and some of the language is dated, but that’s part of its charm. Bridget is a little girl whose sister Nancy has died, and she sets off on a quest to the Land of Heart’s Delight to see her. As well as the fairies, Bridget meets other ‘wee’ people along the way: a dragon-fly, a Kookaburra, a lizard, some teddy bears, a pelican and the Mannikins. There is some low-level scariness with the Merman who lurks in the Merman Pool on the way, and she must be careful to avoid staying where her sister is forever, but of course she makes it back home safe and sound to the anxious but loving arms of her Nurse.
It’s a book that’s suitable for 8-10 year olds who are not yet too world-weary to enjoy it. While I wouldn’t read the whole book to a class because at 102 pages it’s quite long and attention might wander, reading a snippet or two and exploring these classic illustrations would be something different for classes covering the Australian Curriculum Literature content at Levels Foundation to Year 2:
Foundation: Respond to texts, identifying favourite stories, authors and illustrators (ACELT1577)
Year 1: Discuss how authors create characters using language and images (ACELT1581)
The Little Fairy Sister is a lovely addition to any school library for those little girls who are obsessed with those interminable fairy book series. I can think of quite a few at my school who – while perhaps not able to read it themselves, will be interested to see the context from which contemporary fairy fandom springs.
Or it might just be the perfect gift for a small someone that you love. Perfect for bedtime reading…