Piper Green and the Fairy Tree
by Ellen Potter
Illustrated by Qin Leng
Published by Yearling, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books (August 2015)
My Rating: 3-1/2 stars
I was intrigued by what looked to be a spunky girl character on the cover of Piper Green and the Fairy Tree. Plus, the fairy tree hinted at a bit of magic. The story is much more “slice-of-life” than it is an adventure story or about magic. At the heart of the story is a young girl struggling with sadness, loss and change. This is the first book in a new series.
Piper Green tells us the story of her first couple of days of second grade. She insists on wearing a pair of earmuffs with monkeys on them that her older brother, Erik, gave to her. She misses her brother, who has gone off to the mainland to go to high school. You see, Piper and her family live on an island off the coast of Maine. The island school that she and 7 other kids ride a lobster boat to everyday only goes up until the eighth grade. The older kids have to leave the island and stay in dorms or with family members to attend school after that. Anyway, Piper is confident on her first day of school that her teacher will let her wear the earmuffs. Only problem is, she has a new teacher. Piper is stubborn about wearing the earmuffs when asked to remove them, and she ends up going home with a note for her parents. After a scolding, she tells her parents she will take them off when she gets to school the next day, but a little voice keeps saying things to her that are the exact opposite of what she tells her parents (in other words, she’s a liar). She hatches a plan on her way to school the next day to turn around and go home sick. Her younger brother reminds her that their mother is a nurse and will figure it out. By this time, she’s already committed, so she heads home. At the last minute, she finds a hiding spot up in a tree near her house. While up in the tree she hears crying coming from inside, which is puzzling. Along comes an older neighbor lady walking her dog. Piper asks the neighbor about the crying. The neighbor goes away and comes back with a saw. She cuts off a branch to reveal a hole and two kittens stuck inside. The neighbor realizes through further investigation of the tree that this is the fairy tree her grandma had told her stories about. The idea is that if you leave a treasure, you’ll be given a treasure (and the treasure will bring you luck), and if you’re given a treasure, you should leave a treasure. Piper decides that the treasure she’ll leave in exchange for the kittens is her brother’s earmuffs. Later that day, Piper’s aunt comes from the mainland with supplies to take care of the kittens – plus a surprise visitor – Piper’s brother Erik.
The setting makes the story quite different. There aren’t a lot of kid’s who ride lobster boats to school because they live on an island. The unique flavor of the story makes it entertaining to a certain extent. I’m sure many children will find this different world intriguing.
Piper’s a little quirky and a little stubborn. Like a lot of young people, she’s trying to shape the world to her whims and is miffed when things don’t go her way. So, she tries to skirt around the consequences and make things go her way.
The first page has a great hook and made me want to read on, then I started to wonder why I should really care about this girl. The reason I found, eventually, was that she was missing her brother and struggling with not having him in her life the way she used to. I wish the reason for his absence had been revealed a little earlier. Leaving it as a mystery that long had me wondering if he had died, which felt off since no one else in the family was acting forlorn. Hopefully, for the children reading the story, this isn’t the first thought they jump to.
Through a sort of happenstance, Piper is provided a way to give up the symbol of the past she is clinging to, which allows her to gain something positive for her future. The moment she decides to make this change comes and goes a little too quickly for my taste. After poking around a bit, she suddenly knows what to do, and then in a matter of about 7 sentences she’s said goodbye to this object that she was willing to lie to her parents about. She seems like she could have been the type of character that would have gone into a long goodbye to her beloved earmuffs. Instead it was kiss, kiss…have a nice life.
Nevertheless, this story recognizes an important emotion – one that many of the intended audience may have recently dealt with or will deal with in the near future. Older siblings grow up and go to college, people move away and people pass away. Giving kids characters that mirror their emotions is important.
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