Thursday, October 28, 2010

If you believe ... clap your hands

In between the 9- to 12-hour audiobooks (around 350 pages), it's always nice to sit back and listen from start to finish in about two hours (100 pages). So, Laura Amy Schlitz's The Night Fairy was a pleasant weekend diversion (since I pretty much am stuck at home on the weekends until I hopefully get my walking cast [woot!] on Monday!). I've enjoyed two other books by this Newbery-winning author, so I was prepared for this to be a treat as well.

This is the story of Flory, a fairy born at night, whose wings are unexpectedly chomped off by a bat. Tumbling from the sky into a cherry tree in a "giantess's" backyard, Flory is determined to make a go of it as a pedestrian day fairy. She finds shelter and hires a squirrel named Skuggle to be her chauffeur (this I can fully relate to these days) to get around. Upon spying a hummingbird, Flory decides that flying on the bird's back is really the way she'd rather navigate her world, but she discovers that hummingbirds aren't particularly interested in this job. On one adventurous night, though, Flory calls upon all her courage and abilities to rescue a hummingbird and her eggs and in the process learns how to be a good friend.

I really did not find this book to be quite as message-y as that sounds. Flory isn't a particularly appealing character once you get to know her: She's bossy, entitled, and has some unresolved fear and anger issues around the bat who de-winged her (just kidding!). She's also clever and resourceful and I suppose what she really learns by the end of this book is compassion -- that her cleverness can be put to good use to help others. I like that Schlitz creates a world of fairies that aren't particularly empathetic. (In this way, her fairies remind me of J.M. Barrie's Tinkerbell [omg ... impossible to find a non-Disney-themed link!] -- not a very nice fairy at all.) It's their world and all other creatures just live in it. The wingless Flory needs to learn another way in order to survive, which -- of course -- makes her a better fairy. Not a bad message and subtly delivered.

As I began listening, my ears were prepared for the narrator, Michael Friedman. A woman began speaking ... and continued to speak. As I picked up the case to double-check -- was I mistaking the illustrator's name, Angela Barrett (featured on the audiobook cover), for the narrator's? Oh ... Friedman is one of those she-Michaels! Because of these mental processes, I had to go back and re-start the audiobook from the beginning. Fortunately, it was only a minute or two. ;-)

Friedman sounds appropriately youthful, as well as plucky and bossy both in telling Flory's story and as Flory herself. She is very good at creating the other characters that appear in the novel (there aren't very many): squirrel, hummingbird and bat all have different voices that sound natural (well, as natural as a anthropomorphized hummingbird can sound) and consistently in character. My only complaint is that while she has a pleasant reading voice and a confiding narrative style, Friedman reads the whole book too slowly. It is almost at a beginning reader pace, as if she wants a young reader to follow along. This book seems almost perfect as a read-aloud to children, so I want to hear it read at a "normal" reader's pace.

This aside, it's nice to see Recorded Books branching out with some new narrators. The company tends to rely on its established stable (not all of whom I am fond), so this is a great step.

The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz
Narrated by Michael Friedman
Recorded Books, 2010. 2 hours (unabridged)

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