Irish author Marianne McShane loves to tell folktales and fairy tales from her native land. Here she creates one of her own, inspired by a tiny island off the coast of County Down. "Some days the island glitters like a jewel in the Irish Sea. Some days it hides like a shadow behind the mist," she tells us. That island inspiration got its missing ingredient when McShane discovered that "fog catchers" in Morocco catch mist in fine mesh nets to produce water.
In McShane's story, the Fog Catcher's daughter, Eily, is one year away from accompanying her father to the misty island of Lisnashee to learn his skills. The island belongs to the fairy folk and carries the danger of enchantment, so Eily's heart is heavy when her papa prepares to cross over to the island and collect the magic fog water that will be "brewed into cures and braided into charms" by the local medicine woman. When her father does not return as expected from his journey, Eily is thrust into a quest that takes all her courage and ingenuity.
The magic of the book lies not only in this fairy-tale plot, but also in its deep reverence for the Earth and its mysteries. A sense of the sacred is woven throughout its pages, from the offerings of freshly churned butter that the family leaves on the doorstep to please the fairies to the blessing which the medicine woman gives Eily as she heads off on her quest: "A smooth way before you, child." These words become a powerful help when Eily gets caught in a whirlpool on her way to rescue her father.
Illustrator Alan Marks, equally skillful with spacious outdoor vistas and more intimate interiors, does much to enhance this sense of wonder and reverence. His visions of fairies materializing out of mist reminded us of some of our favorite Arthur Rackham paintings.
The story not only nourishes the trust that five-to-eight year olds have in unseen worlds, but also bolsters confidence in their ability to handle what life has in store. That marriage of the mystical and the practical is what makes all engaging fairy tales, this one included.