Pre-order A Dreadful Fairy Book by Jon Etter
Publication–November 6, 2018
I received this ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
My oldest daughter, Elanor, is in fifth grade and loves fantasy, so I read A Dreadful Fairy Book with her in mind. Is this something she would like? Is this something I would like her to read/would like to read aloud with her? Is it something I would recommend my school library stock? The answer to all of these questions is complex and why I had to drop my rating from a 4/5 to a 3/5.
A Dreadful Fairy Book uses the same sort of overarching theme of ominous narration employed in the Series of Unfortunate Events books, wherein a narrator pops up throughout the story to add commentary and to caution you to turn back because it’s not a happy story. It opens with a forward from Quentin Q. Quacksworth, our narrator, telling you that this will be a dreadful fairy book, and that the reader should turn back just as Lemony Snicket does. This is used throughout the book, and if your child likes that sort of device, they will enjoy that.
Shade, the main character of the book is one most children will relate to–she feels too different from everyone else in her village. In this story it’s because she’s a reader like her parents, and the village looks down on this literacy, even though it’s saved them many times (no you can’t turn the water pink which will kill all the fishes and make the water poison because it would look pretty). In fact, the book opens with Shade in a fury because the village had bought some “harmless” fireworks and accidentally burned down Shade’s house. So Shade tells them she’s leaving, and she takes the only book to survive the conflagration to go seek a new home with as many books as possible.
Along her way, Shade encounters all sorts of fairy creatures–a bridge troll who doesn’t like to get dirty, an Anthony of the Wisp who doesn’t want to lead people to their doom, as well as some with more menacing creatures. Shade acquires some allies–Ginch, a talkative Brownie who cheats at cards, and The Professor, a silent pixie whose pockets carry an improbable number of items. A witch gives them directions to a library on the Marble Cliffs, which becomes a quest for Shade. Ginch and The Professor end up joining her on the quest after some villagers with torches start to chase them.
The issues that parents may have with the book are the faux swearing that happens with high frequency and the verbal dialects given to the characters lean heavily on ethnic stereotypes. I don’t particularly care about the former, but the latter is a big problem for me.
What do I mean by the ethnic stereotype dialects?
“It’s-a the sad story, mine: the woeful tale of the Rigolleto Ginch, the devoted servant in-a the big, big manse of Fuseli Cavatappi, the Basta of Pasta, who was-a brought-a low…” and “Ey, paisan! You know-a the moth girl” among thousands of others from Ginch.
“Vy boss vant kinders?”
“‘Course it’s good youse mooks!” the little man replied in a deep raspy voice.
“‘Course oi can see ye,” she snorted. “Drank a glass o’ milk backwards after refusin’ to do me chore first thing on Sain Bartleby the Unwillin’s Day when oi were ten.”
“Oui, mon petit chou,” the gargoyle said as they entered, pointing at the map with his free hand, “but ze middle of ze land–“
Ginch is the only main character with a dialect (the Professor is either silent or stutters when speaking), but it’s a near constant stream. He doesn’t speak without word-a-ing something. It gets grating fast. As does the fact that Shade is almost the only person who speaks properly–it feels like Etter was throwing pins at a map of Europe and then assigning stereotypes. How will an Italian/Italian American child feel reading a book where their ethnicity is used as a punchline?
This bothered me enough that I took the rating from 4 stars to 3. Dialects aren’t bad (although using ones with blinding red flags are), but they need only be used sparingly because otherwise they become irritating.
So how do I feel about those questions I kept in mind while reading this. I don’t think it’s surprising that “No, I don’t really want my daughter reading this,” and “No, I won’t be recommending this book to my school library,” and “No, I won’t recommend this book to parents of other similarly aged children,” are where I come down.