Saturday, January 22, 2011

April and Esme, Tooth Fairies

I first read about this book in The Horn Book Magazine (Sept/Oct 2010), where it was given a starred review.  When I flipped through it briefly, it seemed a little long for Frances and Gloria (now 3 1/2 and 2), and so I set it aside.  Christmas and our vacation passed by, and we didn't pick it up.  Last week we finally sat down to read it, and I was immediately charmed by April and Esme, Tooth Fairies
April and Esme (7 3/4 and 6 years old) get a call on April's cell phone, requesting that they come pick up a little boy's first lost tooth.  They've never done this before, and in fact their tooth fairy parents believe they are still too young.  But the little girls say they've promised, and off they fly.  There are challenges in the tooth pick-up (including the little boy waking up unexpectedly), but the girls handle themselves capably and return home successfully with their very first tooth.

This book is pure magic.  Graham uses the details of our daily life and adds a little sparkle of fairy dust to them.  A full-size illustration of England's M42 freeway (probably not the British term for it...) shows trucks speeding past a tree trunk on the side of the road.  It's only when you look more closely at the tree trunk that you see the tiny fairy house at its base.  There is a wonderful series of illustrations where April and Esme are telling their mother about their first job while she bathes.  Her wings spread out over the sides of the tub, their mother carefully listens, tattoo visible on her upper arm.  Then as she dries her hair, she playfully uses her hairdryer to blow Esme into the air.  The charm is in all these little details of home and fairy life, and these are the sorts of details that children will pore over and find magical.

While Graham is telling the story of the tooth fairies and their first tooth trip, he is also bringing the tooth fairy's traditional story into today's world.  April's call comes in on her cell phone (what is the tooth fairy's phone number?),  and during a crisis in the story, she texts her mom for experienced advice.  Their father is a trademark Graham father - long hair tied back in a rumpled ponytail while he works in his workshop (where teeth wave from the rafters).  There is a pleasing balance of modern and traditional here, and the comfort of the tooth fairies and their magic wins over young readers.

Graham uses a really interesting method to emphasize the fairies' size - a combination of full-size and panel illustrations.  He uses full-size illustrations to remind us how truly small and young the little girls are - as when they stand at the foot of the stairs, ready to collect that first tooth.  But then Graham uses smaller panel or strip illustrations to track the plot and focus on the girls' pluck and strength.  This also gives a sense of movement as the girls use the winds to soar.

As a mother, I love that the parents allow the girls to soar - not without worry - but with pride and love.  And I love that the little girls (exactly the same 18 months apart as mine) need each other to succeed and be confident.  They rely on each other and are wonderful sisters.  And when Frances had read this multiple times (both with me and by herself), I happened to ask her what she wanted to be.  She told me she wanted to be a tooth fairy!
This book is a real winner - magical, loving and full of the power of family.  Wonderful!!

April and Esme, Tooth Fairies  - Bob Graham.  Candlewick Press, 2010.
borrowed from Lewis & Clark Library

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