Review: The Truly Brave Princesses by Dolores Brown

The Truly Brave Princesses by Dolores Brown

The Truly Brave Princesses by Dolores Brown, illustrated by Sonja Wimmer (9788417123383)

This lush picture book explores the ways in which all women are princesses and all women are brave. Each woman’s details are shared, including their name, age, profession and what they love most. Then a brief explanation of their bravery is shared with the reader. Each woman is wonderfully different from the others in terms of race, culture, sexuality, being differently abled, and much more.

The entire picture book has a celebratory feeling. Each woman is given a crown in her portrait, one that matches her personality perfectly. Most charming are the small details that are shared, like the physician’s love of hot chocolate and architect’s connection to the sea. The artwork in the picture book is detailed and filled with color. Each woman gets a close-up portrait and then an image showing her with her family and loved ones actively enjoying life.

A diverse and inclusive look at the strength of all women. Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from library copy. 

 

3 New Picture Books Celebrating Diversity

Hey Black Child by Useni Eugene Perkins

Hey Black Child by Useni Eugene Perkins, illustrated by Bryan Collier
(9780316360302)

First written in 1975, the poem at the heart of this picture book speaks directly to young African-American children. It encourages them to be who they truly are. To learn all that they can learn. To be strong and be leaders for themselves, their communities and their country. If they do all of that, their country may just change to be what they want it to be. The poem is profoundly simple yet speaks deep truths that uplift children of color to fully be the wonderful people that they are. The illustrations by Collier are exceptional. He ties the children directly to role models like President Obama and Mae Jemison. Using collage and paintings, the illustrations are layered and lovely. A call for young people of color to stand up and change their country, this picture book belongs on the shelves of every public library. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Groundwood Logos Spine

I Wait by Caitlin Dale Nicholson (9781554989140)

Written in both Cree and English, this picture book quietly celebrates three generations of women in a Cree family. As the grandmother gets ready, a little girl and her mother wait. They all walk out into the fields together, then they all pray. They gather yarrow together, the mother a little bit more slowly than the others. Then they are done! Told in very simple sentences of just a few words, this picture book shows written Cree, Cree in English letters and also English. There is a gentle solemnity to the book, a feeling of importance and family. The illustrations are done in acrylic and show the landscape and also the three very different members of the family as they work together. Beautifully presented, this is a glimpse into modern Cree life for young readers. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Princess Hair by Sharee Miller

Princess Hair by Sharee Miller (9780316562614)

This book directly challenges the idea that princesses must have straight golden tresses in order to be proper royalty. In this picture book, princesses come in all colors and their hair comes in all sorts of types and styles. There are puffs, dreadlocks, frohawks, head wraps, afros, kinks, and much much more. The text here is joyous as it celebrates each type of hairstyle with rhythm and rhyme. Happily, the illustrations have girls of color outnumbering those who appear to be white. This is a book about differences and similarities that make it just fine to be royal no matter what type of princess hair you might be sporting. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library  copy.)

Cinnamon by Neil Gaiman

Cinnamon by Neil Gaiman

Cinnamon by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Divya Srinivasan (9780062399618, Amazon)

A princess who is blind also doesn’t speak. Her parents, the Rajah and the Rani, offer a place in the palace and other rewards to anyone who can get Cinnamon to talk. Though the kingdom is remote, people journey there to try but no one was successful. The one day a talking tiger came to the palace and offered to help. Though everyone was frightened, Cinnamon’s parents allowed the tiger to try. Using a series of experiences like pain, fear and love, the tiger proceeded to tell Cinnamon stories. The next morning, the princess was able to talk but things don’t quite go according to plan.

Gaiman excels at writing books with a deep ambiguity and no pressure to have a moral or lesson at the end. This book has exactly that and it is why the book works to very well. He embraces the questions, allows the wonder to simply be there, and twists the story away from where traditional tales would end and towards a more shifting place that allows more dreaming.

The illustrations firmly place this book of a mythical India. Filled with rich colors, they have a distinct flatness to them that works well with a folktale subject like this. They are also filled with small details that adds a delicacy and luxuriance to the images.

Great illustrations bring this book previously only available on audio into the world of children and stories. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz

Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz

Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrated by Brian Floca (9780763648220, Amazon)

A Newbery Medalist and a Caldecott Medalist join forces in this wonderful mashup of princess tale and crocodile naughtiness. Cora is a princess who tries her best to do what her father the king and her mother the queen want. She takes three baths a day, studies dull books about finance, and exercises by jumping rope. Over and over again, day after day, until she simply can’t take it anymore. So she writes to her fairy godmother and asks for a pet. But when she opens the box, it’s an enormous crocodile rather than a dog. The princess and crocodile switch places for a day and chaos ensues. The princess has a lovely messy day outdoors exploring and playing. The crocodile meanwhile forces the nanny into the bathtub, locks the queen in the library with only the dull books, and chews on the king in a most sensitive spot! Still, a crocodile may be exactly what this royal family needs.

Schlitz is a chameleon of an author, moving with grace and skill from one sort of format to another. Here she seemingly effortlessly creates a chapter book for newer readers that reveals from the very cover that there is great fun inside. The brilliant and highly unusual combination of princess story with dresses and crowns with a crocodile who isn’t afraid to bite royal ankles and bottoms is pure brilliance. This is a princess book that I would merrily give to any child whether they enjoy princesses or not, after all, there’s a funny crocodile who makes it all wild and wonderful.

Floca’s art is an impressive pairing here. He runs with the mashup of princess and crocodile, the art having a serious tone at first as the royal family is depicted in all of their earnest childraising. The Victorian feel of the book is perfection, until the crocodile appears. Then a green wildness comes into the story, filling it with sharp teeth and plenty of attitude. Floca’s art though is broad enough to fit Victorian rules with crocodile play on the same page with hilarious results. It’s the play of the rules and formality against the silliness that makes the art such a joy.

A great chapter book pick, share this one aloud in a classroom because it will appeal to all readers! Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Candlewick Press.

Daughters of Ruin by K.D. Castner

Daughters of Ruin by KD Castner

Daughters of Ruin by K.D. Castner (InfoSoup)

Four princesses have all lived together as sisters since they were small children. But they are far from being sisters, each heir to their own throne. After a war ravaged all of their kingdoms, the victor brought the daughters of his enemies together in peace to forge a new truce. Ten years later, the girls still live together but the peace between them is strained and fraying. There is Rhea, distrusted by the other princesses because her father is the king. Cadis is the beauty and the strongest fighter but there is some question about whether her democratic sea-faring society even lets her be royalty. Iren is the quiet and meek one, concentrating on long letters home to her mother. Finally there is Suki, the youngest of them and most volatile. When the peace of the palace is breached, the princesses have to choose alliances and take up arms.

Castner has created a very strong debut novel. She has not just one strong young woman but four, each of them different from the others. Castner gives them each a unique perspective and voice and yet also keeps them from becoming stereotypical in any way. These are all princesses of war, teens who have been raised to kill and damage, to defend their kingdoms and to win. While some of them are closer than others to being true sisters and friends, others are almost enemies. The dynamics of a four teenagers living closely together and isolated is intriguing and Castner captures the subtleties of it as well as the broader issues.

Castner focuses mostly on the girls themselves and the world comes into focus as the girls leave the palace and venture outside it. Because so much of the book is political intrigue, it makes for a book that truly is from the perspective of the main characters where what they are touched by is the thing that the reader knows most about. In this way, Castner also avoids lengthy exposition about the world made up by the kingdoms. There is just enough detail for it all to make sense and work and nothing more.

Strong female protagonists who wield weapons with panache combine with politics and plenty of twists and turns to create a debut worth exploring. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from copy received from Margaret K. McElderry Books.

 

Review: Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible by Ursula Vernon

Hamster Princess Harriet the Invincible by Ursula Vernon

Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible by Ursula Vernon

The author of the Dragonbreath series brings her signature humor and art to a new heroine. Harriet is a hamster princess though she hates the need to be ethereal and drooping. She’d much rather be going cliff diving and riding her quail. But the princess was cursed at birth by an evil fairy, sound familiar? When she turns 12, she will prick her finger on a hamster wheel and fall deeply asleep. But Harriet sees the curse in a more positive way. It means that she is invincible until she is 12 years old. So she heads off to have adventures, slay monsters, and have a great time. But then comes her twelfth birthday, and the Ratbone the evil fairy arrives in person to see it through. With an unbreakable curse on her head, how is a hamster princess to prevail? You will just have to read it to find out!

Vernon takes Sleeping Beauty and turns it around in this novel that is a mix of text and graphics. Princess Harriet is wonderful. She breaks all of the rules, insisting that since she is a princess and doing something therefore princesses must do it. She creates a reputation for herself throughout the region among the more snobbish kingdoms. At the same time though she has had a blast, keeping things from her mother even as she slays ogres and saves giants from meddling Jacks. Throughout the book, Vernon mentions different fairy tales, and even works the glass mountain directly into the story. Fans of fairy tales will find a lot to love here.

The illustrations are funny and wonderfully active. This is not a princess graphic novel that spends any time at all on daintiness. It is much more about great laughs, action scenes and interpreting what her quail meant by his latest “Querk!” The graphic novel elements play perfectly into the story, often being used to move the tale forward on their own. These are not graphic elements to be read on the side since they are so vital to the story itself.

A completely and wonderfully twisted fairytale, this graphic novel is sure to find fans thanks to its strong heroine and laugh-out-loud humor. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.

Review: The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton

Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton

The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton (InfoSoup)

Princess Pinecone is the smallest warrior in a kingdom of warriors. For her birthday, she wanted something other than the cozy sweaters that she usually got. After all, warriors want something that make them feel like champions, not cozy sweaters. So Princess Pinecone asked for a real warrior horse, a grand steed. Unfortunately, what she got was a round little pony who ate what it shouldn’t and then farted too much. The day of a great warrior battle was approaching and Princess Pinecone just asked her pony to do its best. Everyone was fighting with one another and Princess Pinecone stayed at the edge waiting for her opportunity to join in. When Otto, a huge warrior, charged right at her, he was stopped by the cuteness of her pony. One by one all of the fierce warriors stopped to look at her pony, to pet it and hug it. Otto admitted that warriors rarely get to show their cuddly side. And that’s how Princess Pinecone found a use for all of her cozy sweaters and appreciation for her cutest of ponies.

The author of the online comic Hark! A Vagrant has released her first picture book and it’s stellar. First, let’s just applaud a picture book that has a tough heroine at its center, one who uses spitballs, wants to battle, and is looking for a real steed to ride. Second, the book also has other strong female characters, women warriors on the page who are already living the life that the princess seeks. Third, they are also different races. It’s lovely and done without fanfare. Then you also have the fact that the princess is feminine and cute herself. She does not have to reject that part of her to be a warrior. And finally of course you have the cute pony that manages to win a battle in its own way. This book is all about being yourself, whoever you are and the magic that happens when you do just that.

Beaton’s illustrations add so much to the appeal of this book. I love that the pony is a zany cute with eyes that sometimes don’t look in the same direction and a penchant for farting. Round and sturdy, it is impossibly cute. The warriors are also wonderful in their own ways, wearing different types of armor with missing teeth and green hair, they are individuals to the core. And yes, there’s even ice cream at the battle, adding the sense of merriment throughout.

Funny and intelligent, this picture book will have any warrior princess clamoring for more. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale

princess in black

The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Princess Magnolia was having hot chocolate and scones with Duchess Wigtower when then monster alarm sounded.  Dressed in along dress of pink with a tiara, no one would expect that Princess Magnolia is actually also the Princess in Black who battles monsters and protects her kingdom.  After all, princesses don’t wear black!  Waiting outside the castle is Frimplepants, the princess’ unicorn, but he is also Blacky, the trusty pony of the Princess in Black.  The two of them galloped off to face the monster who is threatening the herd of goats.  Now the princess has to save the goatherd, battle the monster, and keep her secret identity from the nosy Duchess Wigtower!

Bravo for a princess figure who neither scorns the tiaras and dresses and pink nor is limited by them for the way she lives her life!  This is one amazing young woman who transforms into a hero, but clearly lives her princess life with the same heroism and dedication as she has in her alter ego.  The writing is light and fresh with rather dim-witted huge monsters who just want a meal and remember vaguely that there is a reason they don’t eat the kingdom’s goats.  Happily too, the princess does the fighting, isn’t terrified at all, and routs the monsters from her kingdom.  Clever, strong and brave, she’s exactly the heroine that her kingdom needs.

Pham’s illustrations show a young princess who is not stick-thin or Barbie-like in any way.  Instead, she is strong in her body, built like a young girl actually is, and when she does battle it feels right and she doesn’t come off as weak at all.  The illustrations of the monsters add to the humor, though their size is daunting.

A real treat for young readers looking for a real girl doing real battle whether she is a princess or not.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Worst Princess by Anna Kemp

worst princess

The Worst Princess by Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie

Girl power is celebrated in this picture book that turns the princess role firmly on its head.  Princess Sue has been lingering in her castle for over 100 years, waiting for her prince to come and rescue her.  Just as she is about to lose it, her prince appears on horseback and whisks her off.  But just as Sue thinks that she is heading to freedom, the prince arrives at his castle where Sue is given her own tower filled with dresses and shoes and informed that she shouldn’t even be thinking of adventures.  But Sue refuses to give up on her dreams and when she sees a fearsome dragon flying nearby, she gets a clever idea.

I must admit to a certain adoration for books that take girls away from the stereotypical princess role and make them active participants in their own destinies.  So this book is right up my alley.  Told in rhyme, the effect is dashing and active rather than sweet and stately.  It also has the feel of a bard’s story about Princess Sue.  The writing is also humorous and fun-filled.

The illustrations of the book are bright-colored and also filled with humor.  Sue’s long braids dangle down, her dress changes as the story progresses, and the sharing of tea with a dragon is definitely something to see. 

Get this in the hands of modern children who want to be more than princesses (and princes) as well as dragon-lovers.  Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Random House.