I am fascinated by miniature items. Doll houses and model train sets are enough to stop me in my tracks, gazing with delight. A hand-crafted, tiny world graces the cover of both of these books. Read on to see what else they have in common and a few things they don’t.
Post format: A Tale of Two Books
Afternoon of the Elves by Janet Taylor Lisle and The Village by the Sea by Paula Fox were both published in the 1980s. Both have preteen female protagonists with unsuitable caretakers. Finally, both include a miniature world that each child holds dear.
In Afternoon, we meet nine-year-old Hillary. She lives with loving parents in a well-kept house. We also meet her neighbor Sara Kate, 11, whose house is run down and whose mother is strangely absent. The two girls bond over a tiny perfect village nestled in Sara Kate’s junky back yard. The older girl claims elves constructed the dwellings and the girls must help from time to time with upkeep. The reader turns the early pages of the book eagerly to find out if the world is indeed fairy-made.
In Village, we meet 10-year-old Emma whose father is taken ill suddenly. She is sent
to stay with an aunt who lives on the coast of Long Island. Aunt Bea has always resented Emma’s father and extends this jealousy to his daughter. Emma escapes her Aunt’s wrath by roaming the beach. Using beach debris, she begins to build a tiny village with the help of a neighbor child. But Aunt Bea goes down to the beach on Emma’s last night and gets in one final act of cruelty.
Book Face-off: Who wrote it better?
I couldn’t wait to dive into Lisle’s Afternoon with its hint of mystery involving the elf village and Sara Kate’s elusive mother. Lisle is a gifted writer, and the early scenes between the two mismatched girls were truly magical. However, as everyday life crept in to the story and the fate of Sara Kate’s mother was revealed, the enchantment faded away like fairy dust.
On the other hand, Fox transports readers to a little girl’s world and keeps us there until the last page is turned. I could wax on about Fox’s prose but instead will offer a few examples. The first passage gives a picture of the hard-hearted Aunt. The second describes the beginnings of the girls’ village.
“Aunt Bea’s remarks about people were like being punched in the same spot over and over again. You got a kind of ache just listening to her, and the ache didn’t go away.”
“Pine boughs and oak twigs and sea lavender formed hedges; and from plants plucked from the tangle that grew along the cliff edge, they made gardens. The mayor’s house was made of sand dollars roofed with pine cones. The house of the only rich family in their village was built of oyster shells. The main street, which went from one end of the village to the other, was formed of white bubble shells. Slipper shell paths wound around the gardens. The blue and green sea glass made fish ponds and a skylight for a painter’s studio.”
I have been a little girl. I have spent hours playing and creating on just such a beach. And so this book is special to me. But with a writer as good as Fox, any child or adult for that matter will fall under its spell.
On a final note, I’d like to recognize the artists who created the books’ cover art. After all, that was what first attracted me to these stories. Ponder Goembel painted the elf village and Sheila Hamanaka the sea village. Both are still working illustrators.
Bonus Bit: In keeping with the theme, here are a few miniature items I own. They are antique charms on a silver bracelet:
Question: Do you own or know of something interesting in miniature?
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