Thursday, January 17, 2008


PRINCESS GRACE by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying Hwa-Hu (Dial)
"There's more than one way to be pretty," said Nana.
"I suppose it depends what she does," said Aimee.
"I don't know," said Grace. "What does a princess do, Nana?"
"You tell me, darling," said Nana.
But nobody could, except for wearing beautiful clothes and looking pretty.
"That doesn't sound so interesting," said Grace. She liked having things to do.
Yes, the liberated young lady who nailed the lead role of Peter Pan in AMAZING GRACE is back, this time inspiring her class to rethink what makes someone really royal. When the school gears up to make a float for the parade at the annual community festival, the girls start vying for who gets to wear the crown. Uninspired by the standard fairy tale fare, Grace again rises to the occasion with the helps of books and her lively imagination. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Grace's worthy teacher shares more stories of real princesses, some warriors like Amina of Nigeria and Pin-Yang of China, and other brave and brilliant princesses who didn't just sit on their thrones; they were artists and scientists and athletes and spies! If there were so many different kinds of men and women who wore crowns, might there be a little more room of the float? This story gains momentum with every page, and is marvelously true-to-life in representing a classroom that is inclusive, energetic, diverse and full of ideas that are always evolving. The
author is refreshingly modern in her depiction of realistic situations and feelings such as Grace's loving single-parent home, and boys who want to get in on the dress-up action. Realistic watercolors capture the dreamy faces of the girls in the midst of their pretend. Grace's stories are always joyful, but this latest is a special treat because it has so many classroom applications: a great springboard for Cinderella stories from around the world, or research into real royalty through history. A succinct note from the author at the end of the book helps us on that path, but you will be glad to have P IS FOR PRINCESS: A ROYAL ALPHABET by Stephen and Deborah Layne, illustrated by Robert and Lisa Papp (Sleeping Bear, 7 and up) close at hand when you finish, as it is an attractive and fabulously informative A to Z resource for learning about princesses in both fact and fiction, and also contains a fun quiz at the end. By royal decree, these are two titles that give 80's feminist backlash some 21st century whiplash.

Also of interest:
In honor of the new children's book royalty, Newbery award-winning Laura Amy Schlitz (pictured above, being very surprised about her prize, thanks, Educating Alice!), how about a little princesspalooza?

RED BUTTERFLY: HOW A PRINCESS SMUGGLED THE SECRET OF SILK OUT OF CHINA by Deborah Noyes, illustrated by Sophie Blackall (Candlewick) Based on the true story of the Chinese princess who was married off to the King of Khotan, north of Tibet, and smuggled precious silkworm cocoons and the seeds of the mulberry tree on which they feed. This poetic picture book from the princess's POV uses language that flows with emotion and period detail, and is accented by illustrations that fairly glow. The robes of the ladies in the court spread like beautiful wings, and you've got to love the hairdos that look like butterflies...complete with antennae! A graceful and unusual read. (7 and up)

THE PRINCESS AND THE PEA by Rachel Isadora (Putnam) All of the original language of Hans Christian Anderson's classic fairy tale is preserved, but dressed in the vibrant patterns of Africa. With three ways to say "hello" on the continent at the end, this is a stunningly beautiful addition to any multicultural collection, as well as a great storytime read-aloud. Oh, that pile of mattresses, each one so different and so colorful! Eyes and smiles grow wide with this one. (4 and up) Also see Isadora's recent rendering of THE TWELVE DANCING PRINCESSES, though my favorite versions of that one will always be the heady, classical one by Marianna Mayer and Kinuko Y. Craft and the one illustrated by Jane Ray, in which several of the princesses wear glasses. Read them all and compare with your own royal court of children!

This theme means I can't miss the chance to remind you about one of my very favorite children's books in the whole wide world, KING MATT THE FIRST by Janusz Korczak (Algonquin), with cover art by this year's Calecott winning artist Brian Selznick, about a boy king who attempts to run a country of children. Whether Matt is attempting a new reform involving the distribution of chocolate to all of his citizens, running to do battle on a war-torn front under a false name while a lifelike doll reigns in his stead, arranging for his population to attend summer camp or on a diplomatic mission to the land of the cannibals, every chapter ends with a cliffhanger. And why wouldn't it? Its author was a renowned pediatrician who ran orphanages in Poland and wrote this adventure with read-aloud in mind. When the Nazis cleared the Warsaw ghetto, Korczak suffered the same tragic fate as his charges, but his masterpiece lives on. A sensitive and stirring entrez into the wild world of grown-up politics...just in time for the election! (9 and up)

A PRINCESS PRIMER: A FAIRY GODMOTHER'S GUIDE TO BEING A PRINCESS by Stephanie True Peters (Dutton) The "Princesses of Many Lands" page aside, I'd be lying if I didn't say that this book wasn't a little heavy-handed when it comes to the blonde, blue-eyed princess stereotype. I'd also be lying if I didn't say I would have been absolutely ga-ga over this book as a little girl, and that I have watched people who are little girls poring over its pink pages with unbridled delight. Princess hairstyles! Gown styles! How-to's! Types of enchantment (the lenticular image of a frog being turned into a prince and back again is hilarious)! A glittering, gala guide, the contents takes an authoritative, mannered and almost magazine-y tone that will lend anyone claiming Divine Right an air of confidence and enough know-how to run the kingdom. You decide if you can tolerate that in your favorite princess. (7 and up).

Which princess book on your shelf would you take to the ball?

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1 comment:

Peter N. Jones said...

I also like children's books that provide great lessons for today's kids. Have you come across the The Little Man in the Map? I did a review of it a couple of days ago and just thought it was awsome - educational but also beautifully illustrated. It might work well with your readers.


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