Michelle Harrison’s debut novel, 13 Treasures, is a book about fairies. But it’s also a novel that I believe is teaching children about the non-Disneyfied aspects of folklore. This isn’t a fairytale in the sense that “they all lived happily ever after,” but more so about “this is what is out in the world, so protect yourself!” The novel focuses heavily on the darker side of fantasy so I would recommend it for older children of ages 10 through 13.
The novel starts with Tanya, a young girl who has second sight due to her heritage that descends from a changeling (that’s a half human, half fairy to you and me!) This means by having both human and fairy blood, Tanya is able to see the fairies and various other creatures the human eye misses. Her mother, however, does not carry the same gene, and so Tanya’s “behavior”, which is actually the fairies setting her up, forces her mother to send Tanya to live with her less than welcoming grandmother, in a manor in the Essex countryside. While there, Tanya meets her cousin and from thereon in the novel focuses a lot on the adventure and mystery surrounding the fairies and the disappearance of a girl 50 years ago. As an adult reader, my interest waivered while reading this build up to the novel’s climax, but there is definitely enough excitement to keep children interested in the story.
There are common fairytale conventions in this book, particularly the midnight deadline we’re so fond of from Cinderella, and the donning of red clothing while entering the dark and dangerous forest we’re familiar with from various Little Red Riding Hood stories. Harrison has used each in conjunction with her fairy world by using the red clothing as a form of protection against evil. The Cinderella-esqué ideas aid the climax of the story in which midnight is characterized, as “twilight hour” and the time of day in which the fairy world is most accessible. We follow Tanya and her cousin, Fabian into the woods as they attempt to save the missing girl; the fairies have kept her in their realm for 50 years! But, as in Cinderella, midnight brings bad news.
Looking specifically at the novel in terms of its British teaching, the Legend of Robin Hood features through the characterization of Red. Red is a young girl who also has second sigh, is an outlaw, rises up against the fairies, and hides out in the manor’s underground tunnel system. Tanya meets Red one night when mysterious sounds are heard from the kitchen. The two become friends as Tanya learns of Red’s history and involvement with the fairy world. Red’s brother was taken and replaced by a changeling. It has become her mission to take the fairy changelings and use them as bargaining chips to ensure the safe return of the human children who have been taken across the country. Robin Hood is widely known throughout Britain as the outlaw who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor as an act against Prince John’s tyranny in the 1600s. His legend is the single most famous in the country and Red’s character may have inadvertently been based upon him. I personally love the idea of Robin Hood so naturally Red was by far my favorite character. I feel Harrison has used Robin Hood as a basis to teach readers his mentality and the effect he had on British history through her character. Red ultimately sacrifices herself to save Tanya from being forced into the fairy realm, replacing the ‘missing girl’ and this is where the story ends. Robin Hood continually sacrificed himself and both characters having nothing to lose due to being outlaws in hiding. The value of sacrifice in order to stand up for your beliefs in Britain is commonly gratified and has been repeated throughout the years. I am yet to meet a British person who does not know the legend of Robin Hood and not shared the same value of sacrifice so it is warming to see his spirit in this novel.
This novel is good for children who enjoy mysteries, fantasy, and aren’t afraid to be a little bit scared. This is the first novel in a trilogy so it is good for those children who enjoy having more to read of the same story. There is a heavy emphasis on not entering the woods alone at night and “listening to your elders.” I believe Harrison’s novel displays the right message for her target audience as even I, at 19 years old, felt the need to listen to the grandmother and stay clear of the forest in this story!
Published by Little, Brown and Company, May 2011
Age Recommendation: 10 – 13
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