Sunday, July 31, 2011


The Folk Keeper, Franny Billingsley, Simon & Schuster, 1999, 162 pp


Corin is the Folk Keeper. He keeps the Folk at bay, invisible angry creatures who sour the milk, make the hens stop laying, ruin the crops. Through the Folk Door, into the caverns, via the cellar, Corin brings the food offerings and spends hours in the dark, keeping the Folk Record.

But Corin is really Corinna, an orphan who has learned to protect herself from drudgery and humiliation. Now she is being fetched by a wealthy family from Cliffsend in the Northern Isles. Some mysterious past has come to claim her.

The tale continues as Corin learns the ways of the extra fierce and wild Folk of the Isles. He becomes a friend of Finian, a boy who prefers boats to running an estate. Danger from Sir Edward, the frustrated heir, forces Corin to learn who and what she really is.

I loved the folk tale atmosphere that Billingsley creates. This is the kind of story, like Island of the Blue Dolphins, that pits a strong young girl against hardship. As Corinna comes of age, her fierceness is tempered by her discoveries about her true nature. The author investigates that odd territory many girls must pass through when we might rather have been a boy and must come to terms with the restrictions of our gender. She does it well with the lightest sensitivity.

The Folk Keeper is also a love story told in the most tasteful yet realistic way, making it completely appropriate for middle school readers. I have not found a book quite like this in a long while.

(The Folk Keeper is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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