Free Press Journal

Into the fascinating world of Book Fairies


In the run up to their first treasure hunt organised worldwide, Preeja Aravind attempts to find out what is so fascinating about these creatures called Book Fairies

There is no pixie dust, or star-tipped wand or even magical transformations involved — there is, however, some magic and a lot of love. The love for reading and the desire to spread it. This is what Book Fairies are all about.

What started as a simple act of sharing has become into a worldwide phenomenon. The idea to spread the joy of reading was started in 2012 by Hollie Fraser, from whom Cordelia Oxley took over two years later. Oxley, like Fraser, left behind books on the London Underground for people to find them; that was how Books on the Underground (BOTU) took off.

The community has grown considerably since then, with people posting across social media how they found a book. Now, BOTU leaves about 400 books each week across the London Tube with a sticker that has a message: “Take this book, read it, then leave it for someone else to enjoy.”

BOTU, however, was very London specific; Book Fairies, on the other hand, are all over the world. They started in 26 countries and within the six months have grown to 100 countries. There are head fairies, and other smaller fairies … and the community is only growing.

From BOTU to Fairies

Talking about the birth of Book Fairies, Oxley says, “I grew up spending a lot of time in my dad’s bookshop; and I have always loved reading and sharing the books… Each Christmas, I would buy everyone a copy of my favourite book that year. So when I got involved with BOTU, it was perfect — sharing the books I loved with strangers! Taking it worldwide was a dream, and I am so pleased that it went so well.”

 ‘An idea can change lives’ is a cliché, yes, but it is so because it works. Oxley’s continued endeavour has similar movements across the world, where people have begun leaving books on the subways, metros and other public means of transportation.

And anyone can become a book fairy. There is no criterion; in fact, on their website, it is specifically written: The Book Fairies can be anywhere, and could be anyone. The Book Fairies are not restricted by countries, transport or anything else. If you want to share books, you can get stickers and be a book fairy.

Emma Watson’s celebrity quotient, and the Book Fairies’ collaboration with her book club, ensured that media coverage for book drops has been ample

‘Hermione’ for the books

To include Emma ‘Hermione Granger’ Watson was a masterstroke. “I approached Emma to see if she would like to get involved,” says Oxley. “She loves being a book fairy. And she goes to the best places to hide the books, having fun along the way!”

On March 8 this year, book fairies started fluttering all around the world, flagged off by Watson hiding books in Paris. On that day, few knew that Watson inaugurating this fairy community in 26 countries. Today there are over 5000 fairies, big and small, who can be found in over 100 countries.

And Watson’s involvement has only given wind to these fairy wings. Emma’s celebrity quotient, and the book fairies’ collaboration with her book club, ensured that media coverage for book drops has been ample.

The Book Fairies dropped titles from Watson’s book club — Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi among them —to celebrate International Women’s Day all over the world. “It was a perfect match. Emma is an avid reader and has her own book club, Our Shared Shelf,” said Oxley. “So to have some fun with those books just made sense!”

Magical Indian Fairies

In India, too, the book fairies officially started on March 8, this year. One of them is Delhi’s head fairy, 21-year-old Keshav Chhabra — the only boy fairy in India. The gender, for him, doesn’t matter unless the “girls are cracking women jokes” when he literally becomes the odd man out; even that is brushed off by him. “We are not bound by geography. So I don’t think that gender should be a criterion either,” Chhabra asserts.

Like Oxley, Chhabra, too is also an avid reader, who loves to share. “I have always shared my reading with my friends. Every time there was an occasion — any friend’s birthday, or a friend got a new job — I would always take out a book and give it to him/her. Now, I just take books from my shelf and give it away as a fairy,” he adds.

Apart from Chhabra in Delhi, who have 15 people hiding books with him; there are six other places where the fairies have been seen, erm, felt. Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Kolkata, Goa and most recently Indore.

Kavita Singh, who made her first book drop on July 30, gave away 10 books in that attempt. She said the next book drop will be today in Bhopal. “In Indore, it will be on August 15,” she says. For Kavita, becoming a book fairy was sort of next step in evolution. “I already spearhead a community of readers writers and artists in the name of Kaffeinated Konversations.  So being a book fairy was a natural extension of what I am doing,” she says.

Other noteworthy book fairies are Kadambari Mehta in Mumbai, and Varsha Naik in Goa.

Little Bit of Happiness

Apart from book lovers turned fairies, publishing houses, too, did their bit to promote reading. Book Fairies, celebrated Penguin India’s 30th anniversary on July 1, by hiding Arundhati Roy’s books, published by the company.

These fairies are unseen, but their fairy duties have put smiles on innumerable faces. Social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram are peppered with posts where people have found books dropped by these fairies.

The next big event, which all these fairies are keeping under wraps, is the ‘Book Fairy Treasure’ on August 12 and 13, across the world. No matter how much you try to coax out the details, every single one of them is tight-lipped about it. So the only thing we can do is look forward to books, or clues, whichever might come to us first.