by Eleanor Farjeon
illustrated by Charlotte Voake
first published in 1937
this edition: Cambridge, MA: Candlewick, 1997
Age: 5 +
Interests: fairies, magic, skipping
“Being the uplifting tale of Little Elsie Piddock, who outskips the fairies on Mount Caburn and is rewarded with a gift of rare and lasting value.”
Little Elsie Piddock is a natural-born skipper, with such talent that she comes to the attention of the fairies on Mount Caburn. One night she follows the fairies up the mountain, and, still fast asleep, manages to outskip them all. She wins one year of skipping lessons from the fairy master, and a magical skipping rope. After that her feats are indeed astonishing, and people come from far and wide to see her skip “over the church spire, or through the split oak-tree in the Lord’s Park, or across the river at its widest point.” As the years pass, however, Elsie grows older and her fame is forgotten. After many years the new Lord of the manor decides to build on Mount Caburn, which had traditionally belonged to all the townspeople (as well as the fairies). The fairies themselves offer a challenge: at the next full moon there will be a skipping challenge of all the girls and women who ever skipped on Caburn, and when the last one stops, the construction can commence. The Lord is rather smug about all this, until the very last skipper steps up – tiny Elsie Piddock, 109 years old, and sound asleep. The Down is preserved forevermore for the public use, and legend has it that Elsie Piddock is skipping up there still.
A lovely fairy tale/legend/tall tale told in a very old-fashioned way, which gives it a timeless, ageless quality. Also a tribute to the concept of the Common, an area of land owned by an aristocratic lord but traditionally left open for public use. The conflict with the Lord, though it’s predicated on old feudal relationships, renders the story quite modern – a tale of greedy developers vs. locals. And it’s a refreshing change in stories like this, that the heroine wins the fairy prize, but does not gain wealth or immortality. She continues to live as a mortal, growing ever older though still in possession of rather magic skipping abilities.
Another charm of the book is how it treats skipping so seriously – as a dedicated pursuit of the fairies, and an honourable enjoyment of girls of all ages.
Not quite long enough to be a chapter book, but has too few illustrations to be a picture book. Sort of an in-between read.