The Fairy Rebel by Lynne Reid Banks
A conversation with my husband led to a walk down memory lane concerning books. Part of the discussion concerned the difficulty of getting ahold of books as children. While we had a handful of picture books growing up, I got easily bored of them and read them rather quickly. When we finally got in-school access to the library at my elementary school (4th grade), I eventually found the very first novel I read by choice (versus novels like Tom Sawyer and Where the Red Fern Grows read by the teachers). That novel, was one I could barely recall.
With only a vague memory of the story and cover art and no clue who wrote it, I decided I really wanted to know what book made me love reading amidst a sea of “great works of literature for children” thrown my way as suggestions. So, armed with only a memory of vague details, I searched for two hours. Of course, eventually I had only to google “blue hairs,” one of the few details I remember, along with fairy and children’s book outside the quotes to get a near-immediate result. I had to investigate further, because while the plot description mentioned vaguely familiar names and the detail of a human child made possible by fairy magic (which gave said child a limited amount of magical blue hairs), neither the word rebel, nor the cover art looked at all familiar.
One look inside the book, however (thanks to Amazon) was all I needed to bring childhood memories back. A quick additional google revealed an older cover of the book, the cover the book had when I read it (and the cover featured in the above link). This book is one large reason why I urge people to help children discover and test genres for themselves. When I read this book, I floundered after, having no idea that bigger libraries had entire fantasy (usually joined with scifi) sections. The library of my elementary school had no such section, and the later village library we discovered (the big city library in our area wanted to charge us for our cards because we were outside the city limits, despite the fact that Tilton was pretty much part of Danville).
Either way, because of this lack of knowledge about genres and how to look for more of what I liked with quicker success, I floundered and read a lot less than I wanted. The Fairy Rebel was the first novel to fill that need I was looking to satisfy, a novel about magic and fairies; fantasy. I didn’t even realize until rediscovering it, that it was written by the same author who wrote The Indian in the Cupboard books. The second novel I ever picked up and read by my own choice was called The Castle in the Attic, by Elizabeth Winthrop, which despite starring male characters, at least somewhat quenched the thirst for more fantasy, because by then, I was desperate for more. Then I more or less floundered.
That’s when the village library my mom discovered later, was a blessing as well, though it was poorly stocked. This is at the heart of why I feel a little meh about censorship regarding what kids want to read. What was the third novel I ever read? Firestarter by Stephen King…in elementary school (I think it was the summer between fourth and fifth grade). Rather than being frightened, the book was exciting and filled that thirst I floundered for since The Fairy Rebel. Though the Firestarter is not technically fantasy, it was about a girl that had, to my mind, what equated to magic powers.
Then I floundered some more until, in this poorly stocked library (for the most part it had children’s picture books, and adult novels, almost nothing for inbetween), my eyes lighted upon a book called Heaven…by VC Andrews. Anyone who knows that name could probably tell you just how “Inappropriate” VC Andrews would be for a grade school student. Heaven drew my eyes because I remembered my sister using the name while playing Barbies with me a few years earlier (she’s 5 years older than me), and telling me vaguely about the story but also telling me I was too little to read it. Well, now I could. And I did.
With nothing else to read after, I started reading more VC Andrews until I found some of R.L. Stine’s teen novels (pre-Goosebumps and a little more mature), that’s when I started on those types of novels. From there, early in, perhaps the sixth grade, my evil older sister introduced me to the Silhouette Shadows line, which had just enough suspense and supernatural to it to make it worth reading the heavy romance themes (I’ve always been more of an action-adventure girl).
Piers Anthony holds the spot for reintroducing me to fantasy and opening my eyes to the fact that there is often entire sections in bookstores and libraries devoted to this genre. Soon after Silhouette Shadows, I was lended my first Xanth novels, staring with A Spell for Chameleon. However, the fantasy author that truly won my heart and devotion once I discovered fantasy as a genre, was Mercedes Lackey, via everything I desired, magic, adventure, and GIRLS getting it done, kicking ass and taking names. I will always have a special place in my heart for Tarma and Kethry from the Vows and Honor trilogy.
However, the very first novel to hit the chord for me, rests with The Fairy Rebel, by Lynne Reid Banks. I owe her my thirst for reading, for filling that niche for a girl at a time when it was hard work searching for fantasy adventure stories that starred female characters, particularly at poorly stocked libraries. So, a very sincere thank you and giant hug to you, Lynne Reid Banks. You almost make me want to write children’s books too rather than the more adult plots in my head and already out on paper. Of course, I feel like I have a few young adult stories waiting to come out too, hoping to ignite some little girl’s love for reading, the way you ignited mine.