Frances is lonely. She and her mother have come from South Africa to stay with her aunt and uncle in England while her father is away fighting in the Big War. Her only friend is her older cousin who has left school and has a job. So Frances spends much of her time during summer vacation playing by the stream in the woods behind the house. One day she sees some tiny men walking through the woods. She knew that she had never seen tiny people in Australia, but just assumed that everyone in England saw them. When she mentioned them to the adults in the family, they laughed at her and teased her. Elsie, her cousin, felt sorry for Frances and told the adults that she had seen them too. Then both girls were the object of the taunts. Elsie decided that something had to be done. She drew and colored beautiful, tiny fairies then cut them out and mounted them on long hat pins. Then she borrowed her father’s camera and went into the woods with Frances. The girls arranged the fairies around Frances and Elsie took a photograph. Her father then developed the glass plate and to his amazement there was a picture of Frances and the fairies. The teasing from the adults stopped, the girls were happy and this could have been the end of the story. But after hearing a lecturer talk about nature spirits and fairies, Elsie’s mother told him about her daughter’s photograph of fairies. Soon the word spread. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, an ardent believer in fairies, latched on to the story. Newspapers and other interested parties wanted interviews and the girls were dismayed that a small prank had gotten out of hand.
I once read an article about this “hoax” that characterizes the girls as being deliberate deceivers. But Mary Losure tells the story with sympathy toward the girls. She has carefully researched the story and her description of life in England in the twenties is well done. Photographs, including the ones the girls took, are sprinkled throughout the story. While the target market is middle school, this book has appeal to adults as well. It was thoroughly engaging.
NetGalley Review Publication date 3.27.12