August House, the publisher, recently sent me a short stack of books to consider for reviewing here. I'll share them in the coming weeks, but had to start with one of my favorites, one that thrilled me immediately to see.
The Woman Who Flummoxed the Fairies by Heather Forest (Author) and Susan Gaber (Illustrator) was originally published in 1990 and received awards and recommendations from many sources at the time. But, like many books, it eventually went out of print anyway. August House has rescued it from increasing obscurity with this reprint.
According to this Scottish folktale, long ago sweet-toothed fairies flew into people’s homes and feasted on leftover cake crumbs. But the King of the Fairies was annoyed that crumbs never remained from the very best cakes baked by the talented bakerwoman so he orders the fairies to capture her and bring her down to the Fairy Kingdom. The resourceful woman requests items from her kitchen at home, where her bewildered husband looks on as utensils and ingredients float out of the window, borne by invisible fairies. Eventually she strikes a clever bargain with the impatient Fairy King to win her freedom and return home in return for sharing her tasty cakes.
The story originally appeared in Heather and Broom: Tales of the Scottish Highlands by Sorche Nic Leodhas in 1960 and was reprinted in Womenfolk and Fairy Tales by Rosemary Minard in 1975. I haven't traced an earlier version but I haven't tried either. But I wanted to share the history I do know in case the tale sounds familiar and the picture book doesn't.
I had forgotten about this tale and I am so happy it has been reprinted. A common SurLaLune request is for tales with strong mothers and this tale fits the bill. We have a mother who is a talented baker, caring mother, and overall clever woman. She is kidnapped by the fairies for the Fairy King who wants to eat her wonderful cakes. The story will especially resonate with mothers of young children since the chaos of a child-filled home provides the solution and much of the story's humor. Although watching her baking tools and child and pets float away on invisible wings is a definite early highlight in the story.
And Gaber's illustrations speak for themselves. Lovely and feminine without being twee.