Teen Librarian Toolbox
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TPiB: The Fairy Garden (inspired by Return to Me by Justina Chen)

If you have visited a nursery lately, you have probably seen container gardens put together in whimsical ways and called “fairy gardens”.  There are tons of places in stores and online that sell items to make your own, but they are not cheap.  I have been wanting to make one for a while now and then I began reading Return to Me by Justina Chen and knew I could wait no longer.

Return to Me is the story of Rebecca Muir, who is getting ready to leave for college when her entire life falls apart.  Her father leaves the family and it turns out that everything she thought she knew about herself and her family may be a lie.  Sometimes, we don’t really know the people we love the most.

Return to Me is a thoughtful, spiritual journey of one young woman who must come to terms with radical change and accept parts of herself that she has long tried to deny.  It is about accepting yourself, forgiving others, and opening yourself up to love even if it means there is a chance that others can hurt you.

A very brief review:  Return to Me is inspiring and moving, but it also gets bogged down some in spiritual truthisms and inner dialogue, especially towards the end as Rebecca and her family retreat to Hawaii (who wouldn’t want to go there?) to heal.  There are some great multigenerational relationships showcased here that unfolds over time.  Return to Me also showcases a healthy male love interest, though the relationship itself is very rocky as Rebecca is reeling from her father’s betrayal and it causes her to act protectively.  Speaking of relationships, there are some wonderful female friendships modeled in this book as well.  Rebecca is real, raw and someone you can care about and identify with.  The messages are important, enriching and valuable.  3.5 out of 5 stars.  This book is a balm to the weariest of souls and a reminder to us all to embrace who we are and follow our dreams.

Rebecca herself wants to study to be an architect, and is drawn to tree houses.  And her mother creates healing gardens.  There is talk of creating fairy houses and fairy gardens, so, inspired by Rebecca’s journey, I knew that I wanted to create a fairy garden of my own finally.  And because Return to Me is also a moving story about generations of women finding healing in their relationships, including Rebecca, her mother, and her grandmother, I knew that I wanted to do it with my girls.  In fact, I highly recommend this book for a mother/daughter book discussion group.  And when you have your discussion, you can create your own fairy gardens.

Note: this is a great Earth day craft

What You’ll Need:

  • Shallow containers (you can buy serving bowls at the dollar store)
  • Dirt, sand or potting soil
  • Fairies-make them out of twigs or clothes pins or check at the dollar store, I raided my kids toy box
  • Rocks, pine cones, twigs, leaves, sea shells, tree bark, etc.  These can be used to make tables, chairs, etc.  For example, we used acorn tops as bowls and hats.
  • Small knick knacks (again, to keep costs down, try the dollar store)
  • Small plants, flowers and greenery (depending on the season)
  • Twine, hemp cord, or craft wire
  • Small shovels 
  • Egg cartons and paint (to make houses or mushrooms)
  • Wine corks 
  • Popsicle sticks
  • Oriental Trading has a variety of wooden embellishments that will also work, including little wooden spools
  • The little trinkets you get from bubble gum machines can be used as garden statues and gnomes
  • You can make clothespin dolls (ideas on Pinterest) to populate your garden 

What You’ll Do:
There isn’t really a lot of need for step by step instructions here.  In fact, part of the beauty of the fairy garden is that is cultivates creativity and individuality.  Here is a photo montage of our fairy garden in process with some instructions on making a couple of specific elements.

The beginning stage.  We literally pulled stuff out of our yard and our toy box.  We tried to make a faerie path with rocks, a house with wood pieces, etc.
I was working with a 4-year-old here, so of course Minnie Mouse has to be in our fairy garden.  The best part about this is you can buy little figurines and things like this at the dollar store.  Doll house furniture and dishes are great additions so check out your local thrift stores.


Because there is something wrong with my family, our fairy garden became a zombie dystopian landscape.  The bonus side is, we finally figured out what we could do with the Barbie head we have been hanging on to.  I knew we could do something fun with it.

You can make our fairy garden fencing by using craft wire to string a bunch of old nails together.

You can make mushrooms using egg cartons, wine corks and markers (or paint).

Because it is winter, this is a winter themed faerie garden.  Imagine how wonderful they would be in the spring and summer if you plant living plants and flowers.  Here we use a large rock for a table, acorn tops for bowls, and a popsicle stick and paper to make our sign.  Choose your favorite inspirational quote from the book – and there are many to choose from – to put on your faerie garden sign.

If you are truly ambitious, you can make small chairs, tables and houses using twigs and hemp cord or crafting wire.  Here are some resources:
A few more programming ideas:

  1. If you build it, they will come: you can also use things like Legos, Tinker Toys, etc. and have tweens and teens make buildings, etc.  This ties into the architecture theme.  I have done a space themed version of this with Legos and it is fun. 
  2. Do an Oreo stacking contest just for fun, it is slightly architectural in nature, and then have milk and cookies to cap off your discussion (although you’ll want to eat fresh cookies, not the ones everyone has just manhandled for the stacking contest).
  3. Canstruction: Do a canned food drive and have teens at your program use the cans to make towers, buildings and more.
  4. Or make dirty pudding cups to go along with the gardening theme.

Return to Me by Justina Chen is recommended for all public and school libraries.  It has an empowering message to all readers, but especially female readers.  I loved the mysticism and spiritualism presented and the reminding nudge to us all to be true to ourselves.  Published in January 2013 by Little, Brown. ISBN: 9780316102551.