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Book Review: The Little Fairy Sister, by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite and Grenbry Outhwaite

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 13, 2013


The Little Fairy SisterIda Rentoul Outhwaite is one of the authors mentioned in Bottersnikes and Other Lost Things, which I reviewed here just recently.  I had never heard of her until then, but I should have, because she was one of Australia’s preeminent author-illustrators of enchanting books for children in the first half of the 20th century.

First editions of The Little Fairy Sister – first published in 1923 – sell for hundreds of dollars but it’s possible to have a copy of this lovely book for any small person in your life who is besotted by fairies because the National Library of Australia has produced a facsimile edition, and it is beautiful.

It’s hard to believe but according to the Introduction by S.O.R. Ida Rentoul Outhwaite initially didn’t have enough confidence in herself to write the texts for her books: until the late 1920s she used to create the illustrations first and then her mother, sister or husband would write the story.   The Little Fairy Sister was written by her husband Grenbry to complement the exquisite pictures that are so beautifully reproduced in this book.  By the way. it’s not just little fairy-lovers who would admire it, anyone interested in pen-and-ink and watercolour illustration would find it an irresistible ‘collectible’ too.

The story is quaint and sentimental, and some of the language is dated, but that’s part of its charm.  Bridget is a little girl whose sister Nancy has died, and she sets off on a quest to the Land of Heart’s Delight to see her.  As well as the fairies, Bridget meets other ‘wee’ people along the way: a dragon-fly, a Kookaburra, a lizard, some teddy bears, a pelican and the Mannikins.  There is some low-level scariness with the Merman who lurks in the Merman Pool on the way, and she must be careful to avoid staying where her sister is forever, but of course she makes it back home safe and sound  to the anxious but loving arms of her Nurse.

It’s a book that’s suitable for 8-10 year olds who are not yet too world-weary to enjoy it. While I wouldn’t read the whole book to a class because at 102 pages it’s quite long and attention might wander, reading a snippet or two and exploring these classic illustrations would be something different for classes covering the Australian Curriculum Literature content at Levels Foundation to Year 2:

  • Foundation: Respond to texts, identifying favourite stories, authors and illustrators (ACELT1577)

  • Year 1: Discuss how authors create characters using language and images (ACELT1581)

  • Year 2: Discuss how depictions of characters in print, sound and images reflect the contexts in which they were created (ACELT1587)

The Little Fairy Sister is a lovely addition to any school library for those little girls who are obsessed with those interminable fairy book series.  I can think of quite a few at my school who – while perhaps not able to read it themselves, will be interested to see the context from which contemporary fairy fandom springs.

Or it might just be the perfect gift for a small someone that you love.  Perfect for bedtime reading…

Authors: Ida Rentoul Outhwaite and Grenby Outhwaite
Title: The Little Fairy Sister
Publisher: National Library of Australia, 2013
ISBN: 9780642277725 (hardback, colour & B/W illustrations, 26.0 x 20.0 cm)
Review copy courtesy of the National Library of Australia

Availability
Fishpond: The Little Fairy Sister

Or direct from the National Library of Australia: The Little Fairy Sister

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