a review by Nalini Haynes
Jane Tanner is both author and artist for Lily and the fairy house.
Lily, a warmly and practically dressed little girl, plays in her backyard, creating a home and playground for the fairies come to play. There are five fairies in all, three little girls in dresses and two little boys in trousers with shorter hair. Elegantly simple, this is a story of imaginary play illustrated with gorgeous, detailed drawings. Lily is an active agent in this story, creating the fairy home and providing a swing for the fairies. Although Lily could have become a passive observer after creating an environment in which the fairies flourish, she is the heroine of the story, rescuing an egg that later hatches.
The language, the size of the text, the simple yet elegant storyline and the delightful illustrations makes this book a fantastic developmental book: when younger, this book will be read repeatedly to the child and yet, when older, this book will help develop reading skills through established familiarity with the story.
Jane Tanner draws from reality, creating her sets and working from photographs. This is evident in her drawing style that tends towards realism while still looking like pencil drawings. The illustrations are colourful, detailed and yet not photographic or CGI in their realism, promoting engagement with this as a fantasy story and inspiring both play and artistic development. Images with a little commentary of Jane Tanner drawing these pictures are available on Penguin’s website. Another page has instructions with pictures on how to make your own leaf boat.
Lily’s garden is full of beautiful flowering native plants, inspiring gardeners of all ages. This is a subtle and yet effective means of promoting native plants that will flourish in gardens with little care or watering. Too often in Australia gardeners landscape using plants not suited to these conditions, then demand an excess of water, resulting in development of environmentally destructive desalination plants to sustain unreasonable levels of domestic water usage. Tanner does not so much as hint at any environmental agenda and yet her artwork is appealing, her garden inspiring, so much so that I expect there will be some flow-on effect in domestic gardens among her fans.
An Easter Egg is embedded in this paper book: remove the dust-jacket, open it up to discover a poster displaying native flowers in the book with fairies. My daughter would have found this irresistible when at the right age, my only concern being that, in order for this to be framed and hung on the wall, I’d want a copy of this poster that has not been folded into a dust-jacket. It makes a lovely secret to explore while reading with your child.
Lily and the fairy house is a delightful book, primarily aimed at girls with the heroine and focus on fairies who are mostly girls, however boys are not excluded from the story as two of the fairies are boys. The story is elegant, the artwork a delight. Highly recommended for every girl, even when parents are reading to children of both sexes.
Jane Tanner’s website features her books and art.