Saturday, December 1, 2012

Holiday Gift Idea #1: For a Little Princess

A trio of picture books about feisty gals who aren't afraid to get their slippers wet.

Princess in Training, by Tammi Sauer, pictures by Joe Berger, Harcourt, 2012, $16.99, ages 4-8, 32 pages. Princess Viola throws herself into life like a comic book hero.  But is that any way for a princess to behave? Her parents, the king and queen, think not and send her off to princess camp to make her prim and proper. But poor Viola only wants to run and leap. Rather than master waving at the wrist, she karate chops the air -- and soon she's dived into a moat in her taffeta gown and skateboarded up a drawbridge. By the end of the day, Viola feels like a total flop. But hey, what's a giant, fire-breathing creature doing at the princess dance? Could all of Viola's wild moves come in handy after all? Sauer's story shouts girl power, while Berger's art bursts on the page. Lichtenstein-style explosions (vibrant colors and Ben-day dots) and bold, superhero sound words (Hi-Ya! and Zip! Zup! Zoom!) convey Viola's unstoppable spirit. Best part: The energy -- it's hypnotic. Words and pictures are equally charged and together, deliver a one-two punch.

The Princess and the Packet of Frozen Peas, by Tony Wilson, pictures by Sue deGennaro, Peachtree, 2012, $16.95, ages 4-8, 32 pages. In this adorable twist on the Princess and the Pea, a woodsy prince finds true love by challenging his best friend to rough it. Prince Henrik could have any gal. Every time he leaves the castle, girls scream, toss him tulips and wilt, "Oh my goodness, it's him!" But how does a prince like Henrik find a real princess? A girl with a nice smile? Who loves camping and playing hockey? Henrik's brother Hans thinks Henrik should use the old pea-in-a-mattress trick. But that's if Henrik wants a wife like Hans's -- one that's fussy and demanding. What Henrik wants is a girl who can take what she gets. So, he comes up with special bed to weed out sensitive gals: an old sleeping bag over a thin camping mattress atop a bag of frozen peas. Though many girls visit his palace, none of them appreciate the accommodations. In fact, most wake up bent out shape and toss frozen peas in his face. Then one day, Henrik's old friend Pippa comes for a stay and after a rough-and-tumble day of play, he's smitten. So he sets her up in the guest room and waits for morning. But why would any girl want to sleep with a freezing bag of vegetables in her bed? Wilson's wry humor makes this a delight, while deGennaro's delicate drawings make it playful. Best part: DeGennaro's depiction of Henrik's groupies: girls with paper-thin bodies and legs jointed like jumping jacks'.

Olivia and the Fairy Princess, by Ian Falconer, Atheneum, 2012, $17.99, ages 3-7, 32 pages. Olivia the pig is in a tizzy over what she should be some day. Her father says she'll always be his little princess -- but come on. A princess? That's what every other girl (and some boys) want to be. And if there's one thing Olivia is, it's authentic, beyond compare -- and befuddling. In this funny sequel to the Olivia books, Olivia spends an entire day getting worked up over why anyone would want to be a princess. She reminds her mother of how bravely she resists the pressures to wear pink and act dainty. When other girls dress in ruffly skirts, Olivia wears a snappy sailor shirt. When other girls twirl like ballerinas, she makes dramatic poses in a black fabric tube (an avant-garde number without sleeves). By the end of the day, Olivia's so fired up that she's indignant. Her mother begins a bedtime story in which a beautiful maiden is rescued by a prince and Olivia can't believe where it's headed. Not another prince making a girl his princess! Her mother swiftly ditches the book and opens The Little Match Girl instead. But being a freezing little match girl doesn't sound like fun either. As Olivia tries to settle down for the night, she imagines doing something valiant with her life… Or should she just find a nice pedestal to put herself on? Witty as ever, Falconer writes to all those girls who'd rather go on an adventure than be rescued. Best part: Olivia's inspiration to ditch the tutu -- a photo over her bed from Martha Graham's "Lamentation."

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