Whistle Bright Magic, by Barb Bentler Ullman

Whistle Bright Magic: A Nutfolk Tale, by Barb Bentler Ullman (2010, Katherine Tegen Books, middle grade, 224 pages).

After Zelly's grandmother dies, she and her mother stay on in the small country town of Plunket, where she had lived, to keep the family bookstore going. For her mother, this is only a temporary break from real life in the city, but for Zelly, it's a chance to relax into life in more friendly school. And it's a chance to find out more about her absent father--this is the place where he and her mother met and fell in love, back when they were young themselves.

The woods outside the town (at least, the remnants that haven't been chopped down to make room for housing developments) hold their own secrets. Magical secrets--Nutfold Wood is home to a fairy town fallen on hard times. Zelly can see the fairies, and one, in particular, a handsome fairy boy nicknamed Whistle Bright, becomes her friend. Their friendship leads to wishes coming true...in Zelly's case, staying in Plunket and finding her lost father, and, for Whistle Bright, new hope for his community.

Don't be put off by the cover and title (which suggest to me a cute little story of rainbowy-ness). What this is, instead, is a very interesting and satisfying story of real world and fairy world problems intersecting. Just so that those expecting grand adventure aren't disappointed, I want to quickly reiterate the main plot points: Zelly goes to a new school and makes friends. She discovers that there are fairies; she becomes friends with one. Her mother, who knew the fairies herself back when she was a girl, has forgotten about them, and wants to go back to the city. Her father, at the instigation of her mother, left when she was young (addiction issues); she wonders about him. A piece of woods is threatened by development, but is saved when it's bought by a man who turns out to be a talented artist (no surprise, really, about who he is...). The woods came with an old house--it gets fixed up.

It might not sound like all that much, story-wise, but I found it rather refreshing to read a magical story that wasn't about Good vs Evil on a Grand Scale, with concomitant violence, Artifacts of Power, etc. There wasn't any Evil at all, in fact, except for a bit of human greed. I enjoyed it lots! (although I do like a nice bit of Good vs Evil now and then...)

The relationship between Zelly and her two new human best friends, Frederick and Lupine, is, in particular, very pleasantly developed and not without bits of humour. Frederick and Lupine can see the fairies just enough to believe, and so become Zelly's companions in the discovery of the secrets of Nutfolk Wood. Whistle Bright, on the other hand, never quite transcended fairy-ness to become a character I cared that much about, but I had absolutely no objections to his story.

In short, a very nice book indeed for the reader looking for a story that blends fairy magic with the (mild) problems of real life, one I'd especially recommend to young fans of fantasy who don't like being scared. I liked it lots, but then, I'm a sucker for the old house gets fixed up sub-plot, and for stories with happy endings....

This is the second book about these fairies--the first (The Fairies of Nutfolk Wood), which I haven't read, is the story of Zelly's mother when she was a girl. It isn't at all necessary to have read that one first.

Added bonus, for those looking for multiracial characters in fantasy--Frederick's mother is African American; he's not described in terms of skin color or ethnicity, but unless he's adopted (and there's no reason to think he is), he's a bona fide kid of color.


  1. Charlette,
    I was happy that you reviewed my book, even more so that you picked up on things that I cared about... like kid-characters who are racially and economically diverse facing problems that are familiar in the real world. I wanted magic that was hopeful, kids that were recognizable, and a house-fixing happy ending--I never got over the attic transformation in "A Little Princess." Anyway, Thanks!
    Barb Bentler Ullman

  2. You're very welcome! Just as soon as I get my tbr pile down a bit, I'll be looking for the first book...

    And I love that part of A Little Princes to pieces!

  3. Thanks for the review. I hadn't heard of this book and will add it to my list to read.


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