Local author Tracy Kane still holds on to the wonder of a child learning that an acorn grows into a giant oak tree, or that a tadpole becomes a toad.
“Everything in nature was magical,” she said. “I totally believed in fairies because I thought nature was magical.”
As a little girl, Kane was fascinated by her yard, capturing winged things like dragonflies and lightning bugs, and collecting sparkly stones.
“I guess I was just meant to put it all together in fairy houses,” she said. She has now written and illustrated several books in a popular Fairy House Series.
Portsmouth is home to the first and largest Fairy House Tour in the world, returning for the 11th year on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 26 and 27. More than 200 fairy houses built by artists, florists, adventurers, schools, and families will be on display throughout the grounds of Prescott Park, Strawbery Banke, and the Governor John Langdon House.
Southern New Hampshire Dance Theater will return with the ballet of “Fairy Houses” on the Prescott Park Arts Festival stage for both days of the tour. New this year, the New Hampshire Theatre Project’s Youth Repertory Company will perform an original work, “Shakespeare’s Fairies,” in the Langdon Wooded Grove on Saturday.
Kane will be available this weekend to greet costumed children and sign copies of her books near the Marcy Street ticket booth. “Ocean Secrets” co-author Genevieve Aichele will read in the Langdon Wooded Grove on Sunday.
Kane’s books are set locally, but originally inspired by the anonymous fairy houses she came across on remote islands of Maine. “When you go into the woods there, it’s ferny, mossy, misty, and craggy. It almost looks like the start of a fairy house anyway,” she said.
Those houses brought her back to her childhood and a connection with nature. Her stories find different ways of encouraging families to go outside and explore, through a fairy fantasy.
“I was a little worried the next generation wouldn’t care about the beauty of nature around us,” she said.
Fairies help by capturing the imagination, starting with their ability to fly.
“What child doesn’t want to fly? What adult doesn’t want to fly?” Kane said. “Not only do they live in the forest with their animal friends, but they can fly.”
Monarch butterflies are the size Kane had envisioned fairies to be, and some of her books are inspired by their transformation from caterpillars. She says a little embellishment goes a long way in the minds of children.
“If we don’t enhance their imaginations between the ages of 3 and 7, I don’t think they’ll have them,” Kane said.
She was taught to look for “fairy rings,” or circles of mushrooms where fairies were dancing the night before, and that fairies are drawn to “lucky stones” with rings around them.
“They’re very elusive,” she said.
But you don’t need hard evidence to believe in fairies. You can imagine a fairy, Kane said, “when you see something sparkle or a sunbeam, and you’re sure that you saw something there. Anything that leaves you with a feeling that something magical happened.”
Anyway, she said, most kids are happy just to find an insect visiting their fairy house.
The Fairy House Tour allows builders to use covered platforms, hidden nails, and unexposed glue, but Kane judges the 10 houses in the Artists Invitational competition with an eye for natural beauty. When she builds houses with children, she is a purist, using only natural materials and setting up in the wild.
Like butterflies, Kane said, it’s important for fairies to have roofs when it rains. And she thinks a pathway to the door makes a dwelling. Other than that, it should look like it belongs in the woods.
This will be Seacoast resident Andrea Abbott’s third year participating in the competition. She built a village of fairy teepees, hand-woven like baskets with reed and green branches, and settled on a lawn of growing grass with bark towers and morning glory vines.
Abbott said fairies need the usual amenities, like chairs and beds, as well as “books, lots of books.”
“Fairies love nooks and niches and secret places, so I always make sure to provide plenty of each,” she said.
Abbott gathers natural objects throughout the year, and her fairy house grows like an acorn. “I usually start out with a seed of an idea, but end up with something completely different,” she said.
For advance tickets and directions to the Portsmouth Fairy House Tour on Sept. 26 and 27, see portsmouthfairyhousetour.com. Information on Tracy Kane’s Fairy House Series is available at fairyhouses.com.