Modern Fairies, Dwarves, Goblins & Other Nasties: A Practical Guide by Miss Edythe McFate as told to Lesley MM Blume, illustrated by David Foote, 242 pp, RL 4


After reading Lesley M. M. Blume's debut novel for young adults, Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters, I knew I wanted to read everything she has written, whether it was the same story told over and over or something completely different from what came before.  I was in the mood for something magical, so I picked up Blume's fourth and newest book for kids (Blume is also the author of the Let's Bring Back column for the Huffington Post and just published a collection of her columns in a book of the same name) Modern Fairies, Dwarves, Goblins & Other Nasties:  A Practical Guide by Miss Edythe McFate - As told to Ms Blume with illustrations by artist and filmmaker David Foote.  I have no doubt that this book is destined to be a classic and will be on the shelves for a long time.  As a child, I was fascinated and enchanted by the encyclopedic study of gnomes in the book by Wil Huygen, illustrated by Rien Poortvliet and spent hours engrossed in creations inspired by the book.  I have no doubt that Blume's new book will stir creative young minds in the same way.  Modern Fairies, Dwarves, Goblins & Other Nasties:  A Practical Guide by Miss Edythe McFate interweaves eight tales of the consequences of fairy and human interaction with practical advice on living with and interacting with fairies.
Being Modern Fairies, these magical creatures no longer frolic in forests and glens as they once did but have learned to cohabitate with humans, throwing a magical elbow or two when feeling cramped.  After the introduction in which we learn that, "like most Americans, many fairy species came from someplace else in the world, and they often arrived on the same ships that landed at New York's famous Ellis Island," we are treated to three bits of advice: How to Tell a Good Fairy from a Bad One, How to Protect Yourself from a Dangerous Fairy and Gifts to Give Fairies.  One of the many joys of this book is the way that McFate/Blume places fairies and their lore squarely in the present and specifically in New York City.  She informs us that "fairies love getting presents."  Leaving appropriate gifts can "prevent a mischievous fairy from interfering in your affairs" or, even better, "turn an appreciative fairy into your protector."  While "old books" suggest leaving things that are hard to come by, like "gold pieces, silver-winged dragonflies, and brass keys," Miss McFate informs us that there are many things in your own "closets, drawers, and kitchen cupboards that make perfect gifts for fairies."  Fairies, it seems, love "anything shaped like little animals," making goldfish crackers, animal crackers, gummi bears and gummi worms perfect offerings.  Parents - I guarantee you will find small offerings throughout your home when your child-of-a-certain-age reads this books.  The silk from a fresh ear of corn is also highly valued, being woven into dresses, hammocks and rugs.  My favorite, though, is the advice to leave a little bowl of water for fairy mothers to bathe their fairy babies in.  Traditionally, this gift was left on "the hearth (meaning fireplace)" but can be left on the windowsill these days, "preferably one bathed in moonlight."  Readers are also instructed on the nature of Time in the Fairy World, Enchanted Fairy Isles, The Blight of Pools, Why Fairies Covet Human Babies, On the Question of Photographing Fairies and, my favorite, On the Temptation of Spoons.  

While intriguing, instructive and highly doable, the eight tales of fairy and human entanglement are equally if not more enjoyable than the the advice given in Modern Fairies, Dwarves, Goblins & Other Nasties:  A Practical Guide by Miss Edythe McFate.  Cautionary tales, some more so than others, Miss McFate shows us that interactions with fairies and related species are dangerous at best.  Blume is a master storyteller and her tales of fairies and children crossing paths leave you longing for more by the time you finish Tale No. 8:  Molasses, in which a surprising bit of information is revealed.  The tales McFate/Blume relate dark behavior, on the part of the magical creatures AND humans.  Tale No. 1:  The War at the Algonquin Hotel involves the least menace of all the tales and is a delightful story.  If you have never heard of this historic hotel, the Algonquin was to writers in the 1920s what the Plaza Hotel is to Eloise.  In this tale, we find that the hotel was built on the site (and with the wood) of an ancient oak tree that was the home to hundreds of brownies, "reputedly the friendliest species of fairy."  The brownies now inhabit the hotel, slowing time and seen only by Mathilde, a fat orange cat and Olive, eight year old daughter of the hotel chef.


When a new owner, Mr Runcible, attempts to refurbish the hotel, the brownies wreak havoc on his plans and it is Olive who rallies them and walks them the fifteen blocks to Central Park where she introduces them to their new home.  Weeping for joy upon seeing the many trees in the park, Olive helps them to pick the right one, Miss McFate providing the exact (almost) location of the tree for readers to hunt down!

As the tales grow darker in  Modern Fairies, Dwarves, Goblins & Other Nasties:  A Practical Guide by Miss Edythe McFate we find the black sheep in the family who is turned into a flower, children taken into the depths of the subway system to serve as slaves to goblins, a Lorelei (a mermaid who sings ships to their doom) who tricks a girl into unknowingly bringing about the death of her favorite ferry captain and Libretto fairies who can tolerate nothing less than superb music made by wonderful musicians.  But, my favorite story in the group involves a little boy named George  who, while stuck in traffic in the Lincoln Tunnel ("I'm fairly certain," McFate writes, "that President Lincoln, for whom the tunnel is named, would have picked something else to honor his memory, but he got unlucky in this respect.)  George thinks he sees a little man unlocking one of the small metal doors that are placed at intervals throughout most tunnels.  What follows is a story of disillusionment, (in the tunnel George realizes that his parents don't know everything) greed and consequences.  McFate describes a magical forest of trees that grow rubies the size of baseballs and are alarmed with silver bells that ring as the gems are being plucked.  Blume's writing in this story peak, both in her descriptions of George and his thoughts and feelings and in the way that she creates and describes the world of the Harvester dwarves that farm this forest.  The punishment that George receives is without parr - both for imagination and disgustingness and the end for both George and his parents is truly a sad one.

Elizabeth Bird sums up the book beautifully in her review when she writes, "Blume is tapping into a Roald Dahl punishment mindset with these tales.  Only, unlike Dahl, Blume isn't going to moralize.  The thing a person needs to know about fairies is that they don't deal with justice.  Good little children are as likely to suffer at the hands of the fair folk as bad little children."  Indeed, I think that this quality is what makes the book so enjoyable and believable.  Children know that, as Bird says, fairies - magic - isn't about justice.  Bird also notes that, while the title has the word "guide" in the title, there is no "faux battered cover or mock leather clasp.  Inside there aren't individual boxes or cutaways."  As much as I love the Ology books and their knock-offs, it is refreshing to have a book that does not try to be all things.  On that note, David Foote's illustrations are more urban and gritty, in line with the tone of the book, and not the antique sort of illustrations one might expect to find in a magical field guide.  To quote Bird one last time, Foote's artwork is "owes more to Ronald Searle and Ralph Steadman  than Tony DiTerlizzi and Chris Riddell."  I have to admit, as I began to read Modern Fairies, Dwarves, Goblins & Other Nasties:  A Practical Guide by Miss Edythe McFate I found myself wishing for illustrations that were more pastoral, scientific and encyclopedic, like those of the Gnomes book from my childhood, but by the time I was reading about Garbage Dumps and Other Unlikely Fairy Habitats, I knew that Foote's illustrations were THE perfect match for Blume's writing, and I think other readers will feel that as well.

Need more convincing?  Listen to Blume being interviewed on NPR's Morning Edition by Steve Inskeep for some great tidbits.  Also, Foote and Blume have created one of the best book trailers I have seen in a while and is definitely worth a few minutes of your time.  The narrator's voice is authoritative and haunting and I suspect it might be that of Ms Blume herself...

The Clemency Pogue series written by JT Petty is a bit like Artemis Fowl but with a girl hero and no spy technology.  And the books are half the length.  Nevertheless, they are immensely entertaining, every bit as suspenseful and menacing and chock full of brilliant, hilarious characters.  This will satisfy any cravings for more stories of the folk which I guarantee you will have when you get to the end of Modern Fairies, Dwarves, Goblins & Other Nasties:  A Practical Guide by Miss Edythe McFate.

And for readers interested in the historical lives of fairies, both Newbery Honor winners that I read years ago and loved...

The Moorchild by Eloise McGraw: Book Cover

The Moorchild by Eloise McGraw.  Set in the distant past, somewhere on the British Isles, main character Moql is a changeling, half-Folk and half-human, kicked out of her world for having too much human blood in her.  Swapping Moql for a human baby, whom they enchant and use as a servant, the Folk leave her with human parents who, though they love her, never fully understand the fairy nature in her and try to restrain and tame her.  Moql, renamed Saaski, isn't able to understand love, something missing in the Folk.  Her attempts to adjust to her life and understand who she is, as well as the isolation that she experiences and the call of the Folk make this book hard to put down.

The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope: Book CoverThe Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Mary Pope is set in the 1550s England.  Main character Kate is a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth I while she is still a princess.  Banished from the court through the folly of her sister, Kate is sent to Elvenwood Hall, also known as the Perilous Gard.  There she finds that the daughter of the master of the hall, Sir Geoffrey Heron, has disappeared and Heron's brother, Christopher, is suspected as having a hand in this disappearance.  Kate also learns that the local villagers think that the Folk are living under the hill and kidnapping children.  Kate stumbles into the underground fairy world and must rescue herself, Christopher Heron and his niece.  Another great suspense story where fairies are anything but the Tinkerbell type.

Other fairy books for readers interested in the everyday lives of fairies...

And, for younger readers interested in a less menacing tale that still has some suspense,  check out my review of Laura Amy Schlitz's The Night Fairy.

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