In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Gail Carson Levine redeems princess stories

Dear Aunt Debbie,

Happy Easter!  We did indeed have some egg-dyeing yesterday and some egg-hunting this morning at my parents' place.  And we did indeed fail to find one hidden egg, so that will be an exciting surprise for my parents at some point in the future.  I was reminded this morning as we traded off hiding and hunting of our tradition at Aunt Martha's house: first the adults would hide the eggs for the kids, and then the kids would hide a second round for the adults.  Grandma always won the grown-up hunt; she was quite competitive about it, too.

Thank you for the Peek-A-Boo explanation.  Makes total sense now, and I'm glad Dad isn't going anywhere too dangerous.  Sadly, Emma's query rings no bells for me.  Maybe this is one to post up at

Your mention of Emma's post about Ella Enchanted made me realize that I haven't yet written to you about Eleanor's reaction to Gail Carson Levine's The Fairy's Return and Other Princess Tales, which you wrote about a couple of months ago.   It's a collection of six stories, each set in the village of Snettering-on-Snoakes in the Kingdom of Biddle, each pulling from classic fairy tale tropes and recasting them in realistic, funny, and interesting ways.  You wrote about "The Fairy's Mistake," which is pretty fabulous in terms of imagining what it might be like if fairy tale things happened in real life.

One of our other favorites is "Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep," Levine's take on Sleeping Beauty.  In this one, a fairy gives the baby princess the gift of being ten times as smart as any other person on earth, thus making her life extraordinarily difficult -- no other kids want to play with her, her answers bore everyone, she has no intellectual equal.  Because she's so smart, Sonora understands the spindle finger-pricking curse that awaits her, and decides to hide a spindle for herself so she can choose the hour of her hundred-year sleep.  Of course, this goes wrong, and in Levine's world the hundred-year-sleep leaves her filthy with dust and cobwebs, but the prince who comes to awaken her has as his main characteristic an intense curiosity -- no one has ever been able to answer all of his questions....

The heroes and heroines of these stories are realistic, appealing people, with dispositions both interesting a sweet.  Levine alternates among stories of princes finding love with farm girls, princesses finding love with baker's sons, and royalty finding love with each other.  She plays with elements of The Princess and the Pea, Cinderella (it's a boy, Cinderellis, here), Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, and lesser-known fairy tale elements: the glass hill, the goose who people's hands stick to, the girl turned into a toad.

Eleanor adores the book.  It's close to 400 pages, all told, and we've already read it through twice completely, with a few forays into individual stories as well.  A total hit!  Princesses who are actually pretty decent role models!  A sense of humor!  Good find.

Love, Annie

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