Kirkus Reviews QR Code


by Jill Paton Walsh & illustrated by Alon Marks

Age Range: 5 & up

Pub Date: April 30th, 1993
ISBN: 0-374-34869-3
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

 ``Once there was a little girl called Birdy who paid a shilling for a living boy,'' begins this enchanting embroidery on the lore of selkies and other fairy creatures, sequel to Birdy and the Ghosties (1989). Though Birdy doesn't ``hold with'' buying a child, she saves Matthew--stunted and hungry--from the ``orphan master''; then, when the parson offers to pay for him and train his lovely voice for the choir, she refuses the shilling and sends him for free--a good thing, too, since when the seal-queen steals Matthew, she must, by the laws of human and fairy trade, give him back on demand. Still, the queen won't part with him, so Birdie strikes a bargain: the parson will train one of her pups to sing as beautifully as Matthew. So he does, though what to feed ``Pagan,'' or where to keep him (the answer--the church font--causes ``a scandal''), is a problem. Finally, Pagan's music--``terrible...[but] as beautiful as great tempests on stormy waters, or the love of the living for the dead'' is joined with Matthew's celestial singing like ``the whole creation'' before Matthew is released and Pagan returns to the sea. Lucid, graceful, and miraculously spare (in a few lines, four characters are epitomized with more insight than some authors achieve in an entire novel), the lively narrative alternates entrancing descriptions with witty, energetic dialogue. Marks's deftly understated watercolors reflect the tale's humor, as well as the awe and wonder of the sea. Despite an unfortunate low-budget format: perfection--and a delight. (Fiction. 5+)