A Rare Gem


They come from beds of lichen green,
They creep from the mullein’s velvet screen;
Some on the backs of beetles fly
From the silver tops of moon-touched trees,
Where they swung in the cobweb hammocks high,
And rocked about in the evening breeze;
And now they throng the moonlight glade,
Above–below–on every side,
Their little minim forms arrayed,
In the tricksy pomp of fairy pride.

The Assembling of the Fays by Joseph Rodman Drake

When our oldest was very young my father-in-law gave her several books of nursery rhymes and fairy tales, lamenting how hard they were to find. He’d gone to nearby bookstores and been told that collections of fairy tales were not nearly as popular as books based on Disney movies and Sponge Bob and so were rarely sold in store anymore. Not one to give up easily, he scoured used bookstores and thrift stores in an effort to find his granddaughter the tales he so valued. Two of the books he found are full of lovely, bright images and the nursery rhymes, stories and songs I remember from my own childhood – Humpty Dumpty, Little Miss Muffet and the like. One was a treasury for older children and contains stories like the Little Match Girl and Hansel and Gretel, which we’ve just recently started reading to her.


The last is a particularly old volume, a collection of tales and poems with a faded picture of a fairy and three small children on the cover. Entitled My Bookshop Through Fairy Halls, the pictures are gorgeous and reminiscent in parts of Sybille Von Olfer’s Story of the Root Children.

20110829-033932.jpgThe book is delicate, too delicate for tiny hands that so easily rip books apart (as they were wont to do at the time) so it was placed safely out of reach on a high shelf; there it fell out of remembrance until just yesterday when I happened to notice it during dinner (our bookshelf sits just behind the dinner table).

Not recalling right off where it came from I asked my husband about it. We got it down and I began to flip through it and show off it’s artistry to him and the girls. We all were quickly mesmerized by both the book’s rare and intricate illustrations and the tales and poems inside – true fairy tales we’d never read before as well as some classics we recognized, such as the Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson and some tales from far away lands, such as the Moon-Maiden, a fairy tale from Japan.

20110829-033939.jpgThis picture reminds me of the first movie I ever saw in a theatre.
The image of horses rising from waves has never left me.

Aria has been quite taken with fairies of late and Keith and I love tales of magic and fantasy (diehard Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter fans here) so I began reading aloud. Then we read from it for bedtime and though I put it away overnight, I’ve not stopped thinking about it.


I researched the book a bit and found that the My Bookshop series, especially those published in the 20s like this one, are fairly rare.


Paul passed away a couple of years ago and he remains very much missed by those he left behind. But the tangible items he left us – his woodwork, this rare book, give us glimpses not only into a creative, imaginative side of him, but allow us to remember and pass on a bit of himself to the ones that will never get a chance to fully know him.  I’m not sure he knew it, but this book he passed along was a rare gem indeed, containing tales and illustrations we never would have come across if not for his diligence and generosity. Though no longer with us, he continues to shape our lives in countless small but meaningful ways.

Lo! here are airy halls and fairy halls
     Where life and joy and all true splendor reign
And be it shining creature with bright wings,
     Or but a little man or queer old dame,
Or talking beast who doth appear to guide,
    Pray let him lead you hither to these halls.

Through Fairy Halls, author unknown


2 thoughts on “A Rare Gem

  1. So beautiful! I have hunted down some of my childhood favorites recently, among them one called “mud pies and other recipes”
    Which my girl just LOVES.

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