Real Fairies borrowed from Dundee Free Libraries

This is the gem of a book that I discovered in the secondary stock of my library. As I said in my previous post I truly didn’t expect the book to be the one I was thinking of. It would have been too easy for it to have been a mistake in the catalogue record, or a later reprint that I didn’t know of. And yet – it turned out to be exactly what it seemed. Somehow, in a library system where the majority of children’s books date from the 80s or later it seemed unlikely I would get hold of a rare – and somewhat obscure for Blyton – 1920s poetry collection.

The editions of Malory Towers etc that I borrowed from my community library in the 90s are no longer part of the library’s collection. Children’s books naturally get grubby and damaged more quickly than those from adult lending, and therefore get replaced sooner too. (They also seem to get lost and never returned more often too!) Perhaps it’s the relative obscurity of Real Fairies that has let it remain part of the collection for all these years.


Dundee Free Libraries (Now Leisure and Culture Dundee, though it has gone through several incarnations including Dundee Public Libraries, Dundee City Council and Dundee District Libraries) acquired the book for its Central Lending Department on the 20th of February 1926, so it has been in their possession for ninety years now!


Inside the front cover is a pasted in sheet headed Dundee Free Libraries, which details the specifics of the lending policy.

Fourteen Days allowed for reading this Work.

A Fine of One Penny for every week or part of a week it is kept beyond that time.

Should the Librarian or his Assistants find that a Book has been damaged or destroyed when in the possession of a reader, they are instructed to exact a payment equal to the amount of the injury – if that be repairable – or compel the reader to procure a new copy of equal value.

The Committee requests the Readers to give notice to the Librarian when they observe the margin of the leaves or other parts of the Book to have been written upon, the plates or leaves torn or abstracted, or the Book otherwise mutilated or damaged.

Borrowers in whose homes there is an infectious disease must deliver books and tickets in their possession to the Sanitary Authority of the City and not return them to the Library.

I’m assuming that dates from when the book was first acquired by the library (clearly in an age when librarians were mostly men!).


The date due page is headed Dundee District Libraries and has only one date stamped on it – 7 Feb 2000. That is presumably the last time this book was borrowed, though I don’t know how many times it was issued before that. I should have checked Spydus (the computer software for the library catalogue) but that record would probably only go back as far as whenever it was installed.

The due date page also carries some lending information – though it’s much briefer.

Damage to books and fines according to the scale laid down for overdue books, will be charged to the borrower.

If a notifiable infectious disease occurs in the home, return the books to the Public Health Department, not the Library.

That must be quite an old insert, though, suggesting the book wasn’t borrowed through the 90s. I’m saying that because I’ve got a couple of Gillian Cross paperbacks which have 19 Feb 2000 and 28 Dec 2002 as their first date stamps, and they have much newer inserts which don’t mention infectious diseases.

The Real Fairies due date page also has a folded pocket – which still contains the issuing card. I’m not sure if I remember using those cards to borrow books, but I certainly remember playing with old ones belonging to my parents.


Real Fairies is a short poetry collection, and one of Blyton’s earliest works. Child Whispers (1922), another collection of poems, was the first book she wrote. Responsive Singing Games then came out in early 1923, making Real Fairies her third published work.

It contains thirty poems, though not all of them are about fairies. The majority do feature fairies, elves and pixies but there are other childhood topics in there as well.


There is also an interesting introduction from Blyton at the start.

The welcome which was accorded to Child Whispers, the forerunner of this book, lead me to hope that not only will my friends, the children, equally welcome this one, but also those “grown-ups” who love childhood in all its moods. A little child, with his wondering, sensitive mind, is the loveliest thing in creation. This book is for him, and for the pleasure in glimpsing the ingenuous workings of his mind, and are helped thereby to a better understanding of childhood.

The first poem is entitled Real Fairies too, and puts me in mind of the Cottingley Fairies hoax of 1917. It is about a child who sees fairies in the garden, yet her parents, Nannie, Cook and gardener never see them.

It was interesting to read such an early collection of poems and I do feel that her writing style (at least in poetry) did develop over time. I can’t put my finger on it, but these poems seem a little differently written from those in The Enid Blyton Poetry Book (1934). It is perhaps that almost every poem is written in the first person. Some in the EB Poetry Book are, but not nearly as many.

The poem that stood out the most to me is the very last one, called Little-Place, about a child who finds a secret, special place to play.

This summer I went out alone, to play in Cuckoo Wood,
For now that I am eight years old, my Mummy said I could;
And, oh! I found a lovely place, all carpeted with moss,
And through the middle flowed a brook that I could jump across.

It goes on to how the child played there every day, seeing robins and rabbits and butterflies.

And then, one summer’s day, I found some other people there,
And orange peel and paper bags were scattered everywhere.
My little brook was muddy brown, the buttercups were dead;
And all the birds and butterflies had taken flight and fled.

The child tries to reclaim the special place, burying the rubbish and so on, but to no avail.

It looked the same, but oh! it had a different feel
The feel those people left behind, with paper bags and peel.

And then I knew that Little-Place belonged to me no more,
For never would it feel again as it had felt before.
And when I said good-bye and went, the tears ran down my face,
Because I knew I’d never come again to Little-Place.

 It’s such a sad little poem! The ‘other people’ may well have gone on to be the trippers to the Secret Island, I suspect. It just struck me as a very sad poem to end on, with that little child having lost their special little place.

To Nurse is another one that stands out, as it has perhaps more attitude than I would say is common. It is from a child’s perspective, arguing that she can’t be slow when the wind is blowing her about, that she can’t be quick when the bread and butter is thick, and she cannot be good when the nursery is hot and she is bored. It ends

When I’m dressed in Sunday’s frock,
And my best shoes slip just like ice,
When both my garters hurt at once,
I simply CAN’T be nice!

I’m so glad I found this and was able to borrow it. I probably would never have come across a copy otherwise. I only wish I could keep it now!

It also provides a fascinating glimpse into libraries of old. I thoroughly intend to look at other old titles still in the collection to see what I can learn.

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3 Responses to Real Fairies borrowed from Dundee Free Libraries

  1. What a find! There can’t be many original editions in public lending libraries anywhere now – I remember that our libraries did a sort of “witch-hunt” several years ago and sold off all books that hadn’t been borrowed for a number of years. I bought quite a few for only pence each! Though I was sorry to see so many books disappear I could understand why, given the finite amount of shelving and the need to buy new stock on a regular basis. Let’s hope that this particular book is now recognised for what it is and treasured accordingly.

    I’d actually forgotten the “infectious disease” blurb which appeared in every book. That was certainly there throughout my regular borrowing days (mid 50s through to the 80s), though I guess that it was probably less relevant towards the end of this period as “notifiable diseases” were brought under control and there was no need for the old-style isolation hospitals. As a sidelight on this, our isolation hospital in Newport gave each patient a number on admission and, because visiting was not allowed, the only way of checking on a patient’s progress was to look in the local newspaper where the enquirer would need to look for the number under headings such as “Progressing well”, “Quite poorly” and the like! I imagine that this was the norm across the country, though.

    Even lending libraries were places of relative quiet in the 1950s and children were certainly treated with some suspicion! I made a point of getting to know the staff in my local library – there weren’t many of them and they seemed to work only in one branch, at least for most of the time. I’d worked it out that if I were no trouble to them and simply sat quietly reading, I would be rather more welcome than certain other boisterous individuals (male and female!) who tended to play hide and seek or chase around the book shelves! It worked – and I have loved libraries all my life, even though nostalgia creeps in when I see the modern library with its racks of audio books, CDs and carousels of paperback romantic fiction! Showing my age, I’m afraid!!!

    As always, a most interesting read, Fiona. Thank you very much.


    • fiona says:

      Yes, I still can’t believe that it was really there! I believe that books of any value that have not been well-borrowed get sold on Amazon to raise funds now. I can only assume the children’s books have been forgotten about as there were a couple of rather old-looking editions of Peter Pan titles amongst other things lurking in the stacks.
      That’s fascinating information about the isolation hospital, too. I had never heard of the newspaper method of updating relatives!


  2. Francis says:

    Well done Fiona! That is an amazing find – quite exceptional. I am really pleased for you – so well deserved.


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