Child of Faerie, Child of Earth

by Jane Yolen; ill. by Jane Dyer

Little, Brown & Company, 1997

32 pages

For my generation of women, “balance” is a buzzword concept.

In fact, I would go so far as to say it’s an industry.  It would take me days to list all the books, blogs, articles, and other screeds that advise today’s women on the fine art of maintaining balance. Balance between work and play, home and family, needs of self and needs of others.

It’s a worthwhile idea.  Balance keeps us whole, keeps us operating as complete people.  When our lives fall out of balance, we lose parts of ourselves–our edge at work, our connections with family and friends, our health, even our sanity.

So it follows that we want our daughters (granddaughters, students, nieces) to find balance, too.  But how?

Child of Faerie, Child of Earth answers that question in a beautiful, understated way.

One of Jane Yolen and Jane Dyer’s lovely collaborations, this picture book is the story of a young girl who meets a faerie boy one Halloween.  The two have an immediate affinity for one another, and they spend the next 24 hours touring each other’s worlds.

Each tries earnestly, but in vain, to convince the other to switch worlds.  Ultimately, they find a compromise: they make a pact to remain friends and visit each other regularly.  And they follow through, so effectively and faithfully that they “left all skeptics flabbergast/At how they did so well.”

It’s a beautiful story, not least because of Yolen’s elegant, old-fashioned poetry and Dyer’s dreamy watercolors.

But the real beauty is in the way the girl achieves balance, both in her life and in her soul.

When we first meet her, she’s gathering firewood with the local widows.  The women are wearing their dark “widow’s weave,” but the girl is a beacon of color in the forest clearing: she’s dressed in a bright red top and floral scarf and has crowned herself with autumn flowers.

At such a young age, she’s already made a decision to balance beauty and light against the drudgery and depression of her life as a widow’s daughter.

So here’s the first lesson in balance: it has to be intentional.  When you find that your life is tipping too far in one direction, you have to choose to nudge it back toward center, even when that means heading a different direction from everyone else around you.

The second lesson in balance comes when the boy invites the girl to live in his faerie hall.  Though she’s completely unafraid of him and intoxicated by the non-stop feasting and dancing, she ultimately chooses to return home.

“I cannot on your food be fed/And still my needs fulfill,” she tells him.

So, lesson number two: to maintain balance, you have to know yourself and your core needs.  It’s a myth (a clinically debunked one, in fact) that balance means having everything in equal measure.  Finding balance is really about finding your center, which in turn means figuring out what matters most to you.

The young girls in your life will probably need a little help figuring this one out.  That’s where you come in–draw them out, ask them what they most like to do, what interests them most.

Whatever their answer, I’m sure they’ll be inspired by Yolen’s girl.  Though she’s not much older than they are, she’s already cognizant of her deep connection to the land, to nature, and to her daily work.

At the same time, though, she’s not afraid to try something new, to temper the gravity and hard work of her life with some lightness and play.

Which brings us to the third lesson in balance: when you’re secure in your center, branching out won’t be so threatening.  In fact, it will be just the opposite: a source of joy and enrichment for your life.

When the faerie boy suggests that he and the girl swap magical gifts to seal their friendship, she doesn’t hesitate.  She makes the exchange and the commitment.  And, in return, she finds such happiness that it completely befuddles those who know her.

Be intentional, know yourself, and don’t be afraid to branch out.  That sounds like inspiration to me.

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