In this debut children’s book, a young girl hears wonderful tales and goes on a quest through a magic land to break a dragon’s spell, discovering treasure on the way.
Concerned with her rag doll Belinda and hopes of getting a hamster, Asia is much like any little girl getting ready for first grade. But then one night, seven laughing, magical children take her to a nearby cave where an old woman, Grandmama, tells Asia stories about fantastical things: the Great Mother, the maiden, the unicorn, the hunter and the dragon, the stone baby, and many more. Fairyland, it seems, is in danger, and Asia is the special child who can help restore the true princess, foil three evil witches, and defeat the dragon. Along the way, she’s aided by fairyland friends, as when they give her a beautiful rainbow “dress of leaping magic” that allows her to float and fly. By the end, Asia comes to understand the power she possesses. Asia’s story, though, is really a framework for a collection of original fairy tales that can stand on their own. In fact, the framework adds a puzzling note; this North American fairyland is awfully European, with its castles, kings and queen, blond hair and blue eyes. Also, Hirsch’s children don’t always sound childlike: one asks, “Are we being mischievous?” to which Asia replies, “I do not think so.” But these points fade behind the pleasure of Hirsch’s stories, which have the intriguing, authentic ring of classic fairy tales. They call upon similar themes (animal helpers, witches, doubles, enchantments) and techniques (repetition, rhyme) while creating something strange and new. Though there’s an occasional foray into twee, Hirsch’s gleeful and mischievous fairies have an appropriate sense of anarchy about them. The tales tap into fairy-tale darkness as well: “Beaten before she could fight…the dragon coiled up in a bitter rage, closed her eyes and slept.” Hirsch’s imagery has real magic, as when a wicked fairy shows her victims a broken mirror, “making them feel lonely and ugly till their hearts would break with sorrow.”
Darkness enchants these well-wrought tales.