Hello. Fats here.
Because we are still suspended in the world of Goddesses, Fairies, Spirit-Stars, and Celestial Beings, I am ending this week with a heartwarming folk tale written by Tanya Robyn Batt. With artworks done by Nicoletta Ceccoli, The Faerie’s Gift is a beautiful reminder of the good in the world.
“Once upon a time, and it wasn’t my time and it wasn’t your time — it was a time when life was much simpler than it is today and magic was easier to find — in such a time there lived a woodcutter…”
And so begins our story. When I read that opening line from the book, I was reminded of the woodcutter from the Greek tale who accidentally dropped his iron axe into a river. The god, Hermes, rewarded the woodcutter the gold and silver axes for his honesty. Well, the woodcutter in Tanya Robyn Batt’s picture book is as good-natured as that from the Greek tale but he tells a different, although equally magical, story. Batt’s woodcutter lived with his wife and his parents in a little cottage in the forest.
“Life was hard. Old Man Poverty sat on the doorstep and snatched away everything good that came their way. The cupboards were often bare and their cottage was pricked by the bite of cold and the pinch of hunger…”
Our nameless woodcutter made a living by gathering bundles of wood and selling these at the market. Can you imagine how hard and heavy work that is? I’m not sure how I would do with swinging an axe over my shoulder, and chopping wood everyday, but there’s no harm in trying, especially if that’s the only thing I could do to earn a living for my family.
In one of his trips to the forest, he found a small man hiding under a log. That man was actually a faerie, and this was how Batt described him:
“The woodcutter blinked in surprise. He could see a small man, dressed in ragged clothes, trying to hide under a fallen log. The man was hardly as tall as the woodcutter’s hand was long. He was wearing a rough brown suit… It was a faerie!”
One of the things I like about fairy tales around the world is the varying descriptions of fairies. There is not a single, definitive image that portrays fairies. The fairy that the woodcutter encountered is a man with neither wings nor fancy clothes. I suppose you can say that each fairy is unique!
It’s one thing to read a story about fairies, and it’s another thing to read a story about fairies that grant wishes. It is the latter that makes Batt’s fairy tale an endearing read for children. When the woodcutter saved the fairy from a hawk that was circling above them, the fairy rewarded the woodcutter with a single wish.
“The woodcutter’s heart gave a leap. He could wish for anything that he wanted. Suddenly he thought of all the things he had ever desired, all the places he longed to visit, all the fine food he would love to taste. And then the woodcutter thought of his family, sitting at home in the small cottage, cold and hungry. He knew that he couldn’t keep that wish all for himself.”
If you could only wish for one thing, what would you wish for? When I started drafting this post, I originally wrote “The Kindness of Strangers” as part of the title. I decided to change it to its current title because The Faerie’s Gift does not only speak of the kindness of strangers, but of kindness in general. The theme resonates throughout the book, and the younger readers will surely learn from our humble woodcutter.
Ceccoli’s beautiful illustrations, done in acrylic and oil pastels, possess a magic of their own. The big and colorful images on the right are a beautiful contrast to the small-sized text on the left. If you’re looking for the next delightful picture book to share to your children and/or students, then you’ve found it.