Monday, July 09, 2012

Fairies! A True Story by Shirley Raye Redmond

In 1917, when photography must still have seemed magical to people, a couple of girls in England played with the notion of truth and illusion. Cousins Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright claimed to have seen fairies--and photographed them! Among the people who believed them was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Here's a brief interview with Shirley Raye Redmond, the author of Fairies! A True Story, a Random House Step Into Reading book. And yes, there was a movie about this true incident as well.

Oops! The VCFA residency ate my wits, obviously. I posted that intro and then forgot to post the interview--here it is. Sorry. I plead exhaustion as my excuse.

[UK] The Frances and Elsie fairy story is fascinating because it could only take place with the help of a then-new technology--photography--which must itself have still seemed like magic to people in 1917. How did you get interested in this particular story?

[SRR] Fairies are hot—in fact, the Tinkerbell books put out by Random House (Disney license) and all the lunch boxes, pajamas and other associated items, are the number one items sold to girls in the USA under the age of 10. So I wanted to write about fairies and cash in on the current rage. As nonfiction is my “true love,” I searched around for a nonfiction angle, discovered the Cottingley photos and decided to pursue that. I just loved the girls’ creativity and pluck.

Also, when reading to children in a classroom setting or at  a library event, there are often youngsters in the crowd
who will ask, “Is this a true story?” and when I say, “Yes!” they seem to relish the story all the more. That’s one reason I love finding true stories that are fun to share with young readers—such as my book PIGEON HERO! about the real G.I. Joe and THE DOG THAT DUG FOR DINOSAURS and now FAIRIES, A TRUE STORY.

[UK] You've written in many forms and genres. What's different about writing an early reader?

[SRR] The most difficult aspect of writing early readers—particularly nonfiction ones—is getting all the pertinent information into an
interesting story arc in under 850 words. It’s tough! Plus all the words must be grade level appropriate as youngsters need to be able to read the book by themselves—unlike a picture book, which is often read by an adult to the child.

 [UK] All writing in a sense is about the creation of an effect on the page--when a writer works in nonfiction, what's her obligation to truth vs. effect?

[SRR] This is rather like walking a tightrope, and the focus is often dictated by the publisher. Random House is extremely dedicated to facts and truth, as you put it, even for very young readers.  I have to document every fact, every bit of information for my editor, who then has the material vetted by an expert in a related field. Also, the clothing and artistic depictions in the illustrations have to be as accurate as possible. For instance, the illustration of the camera used by Frances and Elsie is based on an old photograph of the actual camera. So, it can be a challenge to come up with text and illustrations that are both accurate and appealing for young readers while still creating a mythical mood or playful tone.

[UK] Thank you Shirley Raye Redmond. Much luck with this and future books.


  1. Uma, thanks for this great post about remarkable author Shirley Raye Redmond! Always a treat to learn more about her, and her fascinating books.

  2. This story is fun and informative. I think kids will be thrilled to learn how two girls fooled some great minds. I truly enjoyed this book.