Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Latest Princess in Black Book

The Princess in Black Takes a Vacation, Shannon and Dean Hale
My girls are huge fans of the Princess in Black series, so when I saw a new title has been added to the much-loved three I threw my digital hand up for a review copy scepter-smash-fast!  There is so much I love and want to say about this book; time for bullets;
  • First, some things not specific to this book, but they must be said: 1) The aesthetics!  Hardback, cover design, text pages with borders and two-page illustrations without -- it's all so enticing!  And perfect for early readers who are a little trepidacious approaching chapter books but who are fluent enough to be enjoying more than a picture book; 2) I love the action onomatopoeia in these, it's so playful and fun; 3) I'm a big fan of the high- and low-use word balance for the target audience (this installment features the words avenger, chafed, pasture, plunged, waged, chute and flailing);  and 4) The idea of a princess in black is such a fantastic subversion of stereotypes and I think appeals to little princesses and anti-princesses alike (of course there will always be some readers who are neither, or who are one / the other and this isn't for them...but I think they are in the minority...I enjoy these books).
  • I love the way the latest book adopts the established MO from earlier books but adds the twist of a weariness!  This adds a whole new layer of humour, as even early readers appreciate the deviation from the norm they've come to know and delight in -- the Princess in Black is trying to go through the motions but is pooped from all her heroics!
  • A new character is introduced and he is fantastic (sort of introduced -- read and see!).  It's SO fantastic.  (And in his introduction the same mode is employed too, and it's funny all over again, not old!)
  • About the humour: I have read so many early chapter books that rely on toilet humour or general grossness to make children laugh (Cressida Cowell and all the Dirty Bertie and Horrible Henry books, and Dahl of course!).  The Hales' humour is funny without, and I'm grateful!  In addition to being thrilled for my girls to read, re-read and imitate these jokes, I enjoyed them.  I laughed out loud more than once reading this and smiled throughout.
  • Maybe it's lame and doesn't deserve a bullet, but I AM BULLETING IT DANG IT -- it is so nice to see illustrator LeUyen Pham opted for one-piece swimsuits for the heroines in the tale.  I think it's classier attire for defeating monsters.
  • I think the only tiny detraction for the book is that it features a few Americanisms (but many books do, and there's no harm in learning another culture's common lexicon, right?).  Words like "ice pop" and "vacation" (better known as popsicle and holiday by early readers here).
Enough from me, what do little humans think of these books? 

Here are answers from my two readers (Esky 8 and Ivy 6) to the question: 
"What do you like about this book?"

The Princess in Black
Esky:  The snoopy duchess is funny.  The funniest part is when the duchess thinks the Princess in Black's socks are really dirty but they're actually black.
Ivy:  I most like the duchess.  It's like she almost discovered a secret, with the stockings.

The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party
Esky: I like all the animals the princesses ride and I like Princess Sneezewort's pig.
Ivy: I think the funny part is that she keeps having to go for monsters on her birthday.  (The girls then paused to exchange "Happy birthdays" and other quotes in monster voices.)

The Princess in Black and the Hungry Bunny Horde
Esky:  I don't prefer this one because it's not as adventurous and funny as the others.
Ivy:  I like that at the end Blacky is so hungry and that they didn't get brunch until the end.

The Princess in Black Takes a Vacation

Esky:  That is all really funny.  The Goat Avenger is really funny.
Ivy: I like that she was sleepy the whole time. 

My youngest (Mia, 4), loves to have these read to her too -- so that's an impressive span of satisfaction, in our home alone (and again, I think they're fun).  Esky finds them an easy read, but there's some joy in being able to fly through something so playful!

The Hales are onto a good thing here, and I think the latest may be the greatest.  I'm not surprised this pair are working magic, I've loved Shannon's stuff for older readers (reviews of more Shannon Hale here, here, here and here) for years, but it's lovely to see her spreading her wings and flying into my 6-year-old's life with her best friend at her side!

I'll sign off with a shot of what our lounge looked like after the box arrived with Princess in Black books (we had friends over, and everyone dived in immediately!).  Love it.

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