The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

Common Sense Media says

Unusual, compelling tale sends girl, readers on grand quest.





What parents need to know

Educational value

Both kids and adults will pick up lots of cool vocabulary words. Parts of the story will have readers delving deeper into many subjects, from mythic beasts and fairy tales to life during World War II.



Positive messages

Courage, loyalty, and love come into play and are rewarded, without soft-pedaling the fact that doing the right thing is often terribly hard, and has unexpected consequences.

Positive role models

September and the friends she meets along the way strive to do the right thing, even when faced with bewildering challenges. September is dedicated and resourceful in pursuing her quest. Characters show great love and loyalty to each other.


There are many scary scenes, including one where river monsters are intent on snatching away a terrified little girl, and another in which September must beat her friend in combat. Along the way, September has a meeting with Death, and characters are sometimes in mortal danger.


Everything's pretty G-rated here, though older kids will enjoy the author's sly humor in, for example, September's innocent suggestion that a couple would enjoy spending their wedding night with a glass of milk and a nice book. September's new friend Ell proudly announces that he's the offspring of a mythical dragon-like being and a library.

Not applicable
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Alchemy and magical potions are part of the story.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is, as the title suggests, uncompromising in its expectation that readers will be able to cope with big words, suspend their disbelief, and get into the story. It's so vivid, imaginative, thought-provoking, and heartstring-pulling that it's hard to resist. In this first of a planned five volumes, various characters, particularly protagonist September, show great bravery, especially when they're terrified. There are plenty of scary moments, including encounters with Death itself. Appealing characters are enslaved, held captive, or in mortal danger, while others suffer terrible, fateful losses, and difficult choices. At least one character is pregnant for part of the story, and the child of two others appears in a flash-forward, but the reproduction involved seems more magical than sexual, as another character is the offspring of a mythical beast and a library.

Parents say

Kids say

What's the story?

In 1940s Omaha, 12-year-old September's life is hard; her father has gone to war, and her mother spends her days working in an airplane factory. One day a Green Wind riding on a leopard arrives and offers to take her to Fairyland. Off she goes, encountering comic and scary characters who send her off on various quests, which often turn out to involve surprising friendships and hard choices, as well as strange connections between worlds.

Is it any good?


Amid its many critical raves, THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND IN A SHIP OF HER OWN MAKING has drawn comparisons to everything from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland to The Phantom Tollbooth, with the immediate disclaimer that it's a true original. Author Catherynne M. Valente's briskly elegant style simply snatches you into the narrative before you quite know what's happening. However improbable the sequence of witches, monsters, fairies, and mythical creatures, the intricate story works like a Swiss watch with its own internal logic. The characters are unforgettable and complex, and artist Ana Juan's vivid, often foreboding illustrations bring them to life.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how there are many books these days about kids being whisked away to Fairyland. What others have you read, and how does this one compare?

  • What do you know about the lives of families during World War II? Did members of your family go off to war and factory work, leaving their kids alone? How did everybody cope?

  • The narrator describes September as "somewhat heartless": Do you think this is accurate? Why or why not?

Book details

Author:Catherynne M. Valente
Illustrator:Ana Juan
Topics:Magic and fantasy, Princesses and fairies, Adventures, Fairy tales, Friendship, Great girl role models, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Feiwel and Friends
Publication date:May 10, 2011
Number of pages:256
Publisher's recommended age(s):10 - 17
Available on:Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle, Nook, Paperback

This review of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making was written by

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  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging, great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging, good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging, good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging, okay learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Parent of a 4 year old Written byElizabeth_A July 26, 2013

Whimsical story with engaging language

This is a wonderful, imaginative story full of fun wordplay. It has witty, poetic descriptions that will knock your sock off, and best of all a strong, capable heroine to serve as a great role model for girl readers.
What other families should know
Great role models
Kid, 11 years old July 30, 2014

Whimsical, Fun, Delightful--All I look for in a book.

What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence


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