Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Monday, December 1, 2014

Hidden Heroine That Shines

You would have to be a hermit living high in the Himalayan Mountains not to have been in an uncomfortable social situation at least once. Certainly there was a time when you wish you could have been somewhere else doing something else either alone or with different company.  We endure with grace knowing it won't last forever; being unkind to another is unacceptable.

Finding yourself in this position without warning though could be a problem.  It could be downright difficult if you have a secret identity.  The Princess in Black (Candlewick Press, October 14, 2014) written by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale with illustrations by LeUyen Pham takes readers on a rip-roaring royal adventure.

Princess Magnolia was having hot chocolate and scones with Duchess Wigtower.  

All is going well even if the Duchess dropped by unannounced.  Although the pleasantness definitely lessens when the intrusive woman reveals her true reason for the visit.  She loves to catch people unaware.  She seeks out secrets people might be concealing.

Princess Magnolia becomes even more uneasy when a ring she is wearing starts to ring.  Begging the Duchess to excuse her so she can check on what surely must be a bird in distress, the Princess races to the rescue.  By now you know this is no ordinary ring, this is a monster alarm.  By now you know this is no ordinary princess in pink, this is a princess with a purpose.

Jumping into a broom closet, much like Clark Kent into a phone booth, she quickly exchanges her rosy attire for clothes of black, donning a mask.  With the agility of a gymnast she leaves the confines of the castle, leaping on to the back of not Frimplepants the unicorn but her trusty stead Blacky who has a transformation process of his own.

Within the pages of the next twelve chapters readers shift from the mind of the big blue monster whose hunger trumps his memory, to Duff, a boy who desires no more than to tend his goats, to the Princess in Black who swirls, kicks and grapples her way toward victory and back to Duchess Wigtower who is sure everything is too perfectly perfect at this castle Princess Magnolia calls home. What the monster cannot know is he has met his match; no tree can withstand the scepter turned staff in the hands of the Princess in Black.  Duff begins to think the impossible in the midst of this newest battle, even making plans for himself.  With the determination of a bloodhound the duchess discovers not one but two secrets.

Will the big blue monster learn a valuable lesson?  Will Duff continue to be content as a goat boy?  Is Princess Magnolia doomed when she returns to the castle?  The Princess in Black will never tell and neither will I.

Even after several readings, the fabulous fun in every chapter written by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale is as fresh as it was the first time.  A snappy narrative with spirited dialogue connecting one chapter to the next, keeps readers eagerly turning pages; not sure what will happen next.  Limited text in each of the fifteen short chapters contributes to exquisite pacing.  Humor is present throughout.  Here are some sample passages.

"Fly, Blacky, fly!" she said.  "To the goat pasture, as fast as you can.  There's a nosy duchess in the castle."
They charged through the forest.  Birds flapped out of their way.
The birds squawked.  The birds cheeped.  The birds sounded nothing like a ringing ring.

Could the two princesses be the same girl?
But Princess Magnolia wore glass slippers on weekdays.  Princess Magnolia was afraid of snails.  Sunlight made Princess Magnolia sneeze.
And at the moment, the Princess in Black was hog-tying a monster.

As I was "tomboying" my way through girlhood back in....well back a long time ago, I would have loved to have seen a book with a dust jacket showing the zip, zap and pizzazz of the Princess in Black and the back revealing a princess with a secret peeking around a corner.  The shiny black book case with only the title and a tiny circle portrait of the Princess in Black is excellent.  It's like looking into a key hole discovering a whole new world.  Smooth pink opening and closing endpapers complete the design.  Every portion of narrative is framed in a curly-Q pink style with a small magnolia at the bottom center.

LeUyen Pham rendered all the illustrations in watercolor and ink giving them her own personal touch of playful liveliness.  Whether she extends a picture over an entire two pages, a single page or weaves the text around smaller images, every scene is sure to bring a smile.  Her details pair wonderfully with the humor in the writing; the looks on the farm animals faces as the Princess in Black leaps over the wall, the monsters eating a bathtub, bicycle and palm tree, or Blacky keeping score on a board while the Princess in Black fights the big blue monster.

One of my favorite scenes is of Duff eating popcorn along with two goats during the tussle.  One of the goats is eating popcorn too as the other waves a YAY! flag.  Blacky is taking a picture of the victorious Princess in Black.  I can't even write this without laughing.

I urge all of you to make sure your princesses and princes have a chance to read The Princess in Black written by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale with illustrations by LeUyen Pham.  It's a charming and clever early reader you won't want to miss.  The best news of all is it's the first in a new series.

To discover more about Shannon Hale, Dean Hale and LeUyen Pham and their work please visit their websites by following the links embedded in their names.  Here is a recent entry at Shannon Hale's Tumblr about this title.  The Princess in Black has its own website with two wonderful links, A Conversation with Shannon and Dean Hale and Seven Things You Didn't Know About the Princess in Black.  Here is a post on Shannon Hale's blog about the origin of The Princess in Black.  Enjoy the two videos below.

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