Maiden & Princess (Daniel Haack & Isabel Galupo)

Hello, friends! Our books today is Maiden & Princess, written by Daniel Haack and Isabel Galupo, and illustrated by Becca Human.

In this follow-up to Haack’s previous title, Prince & Knight (illustrated by Stevie Lewis), we are introduced to a young maiden as she overhears a royal announcement: the king and queen shall hold a ball so that their son, the prince, can find a suitable wife. The maiden is deeply conflicted about this; she is celebrated both for her beauty and courage in battle, and many of the royal subjects insist that the prince will choose her. She, however, only thinks of the prince as a friend and brother-in-arms. Not wanting to miss the ball, she dresses to the nines and attends, but is quickly overwhelmed by the attentions of the other partygoers. Stealing outside for some fresh air, she happens upon a beautiful lady. The two begin to talk, soon whiling away the hours in deep conversation. But a revelation by the king and queen may put a damper on their blossoming relationship; for the lady is not ordinary courtier, but the royal princess herself.

Lovely. Prince & Knight was one of our favorites from last year, so to see a similar tale told from a female perspective was a wonderful treat. Truly remarkable is the way the story manages to weave traditional fairytale romance with details that make it refreshingly modern and affirming. The battle maiden is not shunned for her courage or skill, but lauded for it; nor is it implied that fierce and strong girls can’t also enjoy “feminine” pursuits like getting dressed up. The princess is intelligent and studious, and these qualities are described as attractive and positive. Both women are drawn as being women of color with accurate, proportional body types, and both are described as stunningly beautiful for it. Even the reaction of the king and queen – one of joy and unwavering support of their daughter’s happiness – is a positive message of acceptance. The art is colorful, magical, and diverse, the length is great, and we loved this one. A beautiful fairytale for anyone who enjoys a heartwarming romance, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

The Princess Knight (Cornelia Funke)

Hello, friends! Our book today is The Princess Knight, written by Cornelia Funke and illustrated by Kerstin Meyer, a classic tale of girl-power.

When Princess Violetta’s mother dies in childbirth, her father knows no other way to raise his daughter than just the same as her three older brothers; the princess is trained to fight, joust, and ride a horse. Vi is smaller than her brothers and struggles with the physical demands, much to her macho brothers’ amusement (and teasing). So the determined princess sneaks out at knight, practicing endlessly and learning how to adapt the skills to her own strengths, speed and agility. Her fierceness and capability earns her the admiration of her brothers, until her father declares that a jousting tournament will be held on her 16th birthday… with her hand in marriage as prize! Vi is furious, and concocts a plan to ensure that if anyone is going to win her hand, it’s HER.

Awesome. A perfect twist on the classic fairytale storyline that gives the beautiful princess agency over her own happily-ever-after. In particular, I like that none of the characters in the story are truly villains, only uninformed – until Vi proves them wrong, at which point they realize their mistakes and become allies. It also encourages princesses to find their own strengths and lean into them; they may not always be the biggest, but they CAN be the fastest or cleverest. The dainty illustrations fit the storybook setting perfectly, while still allowing for personalities to shine. One note: Vi’s mother’s death in childbirth is depicted, with the infant Vi being held next to her late mother; it’s not scary or gruesome, but may be tough to explain to younger readers. Otherwise, the length was great, and JJ loved it. Baby Bookworm approved!

Princess For Hire (Kimberley M.)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Princess For Hire, written by Kimberley M. and illustrated by Mariel G., an unconventional princess tale.

Yuri is an orphan girl whose only dream is to become a princess – not for the pomp and sparkle, but so she can help people in need. She’s not sure such a dream could ever come true, but she dreams nonetheless. One day, she sees someone post a sign in the marketplace: “PRINCESS FOR HIRE”. The childless King and Queen are planning to retire, and want to find the perfect princess for take their place. Yuri knows that this is her destiny, and sets off to the palace to apply. When given her royal audience and is asked why she should be princess, she speaks from the heart: she is loyal, kind, intelligent, and she wants to help the people of her land. The King and Queen decide that Yuri is the perfect princess, and immediately welcome her into their family, giving Yuri not only her dream of a crown but a loving home as well.

Very sweet. It was nice to see a princess rise from humble beginnings through her courage, determination, and hope. I would have liked to have seen examples of her kindness and generosity in the art or text, as it would have further endeared Yuri to the reader, and to have seen more tension during the plot’s climax, which was fairly abrupt. But those and the somewhat inconsistent rhyme scheme of the text are my only complaints. This is still a wonderful story about a good-natured girl finding both a crown and a family, made all the more special by both Yuri and the royals being depicted as people of color, a rarity for princess stories. The kawaii-influenced art is sweet and bright, the length is good, and JJ and I enjoyed it. A wonderful story to show little princesses that, with a brave spirit and a kind heart, no dream is too big. Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by a representative of the author in exchange for an honest review.)

Cinnamon (Neil Gaiman)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Cinnamon, written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Divya Srinivasan, a dark, mysterious, and marvelous fable, written in 1995 by Gaiman and previously only available in audiobook form.

Cinnamon is a beautiful princess who lives with her mother and father, the Rajah and Rani, in a land where everything is very old. Cinnamon has eyes made of pearl, which are very beautiful but cannot see, and she doesn’t seem to be able to speak a single word. The Rajah offers a room at the palace, a field of mango trees, a beautiful painting and an emerald parrot to anyone who can teach the princess to speak, but so far the few who have tried have failed. That is, until the day a fearsome talking tiger emerges from the forest and offers his expertise. Cinnamon’s family, especially her cynical great-aunt, are unsure, but let’s face it: there isn’t much a tiger can’t do when he sets his mind to it, a few that can stop him. Will the mysterious tiger be the one to teach Cinnamon to speak? And if he does… what will she have to say?

This one was wonderful, beautiful, thought-provoking and strange – everything that you would expect from the writing of Neil Gaiman. The text is a joy to read, filled with sly humor, evocative language and fantastical themes. Srinivasan’s Indian folk art-inspired illustrations shine here, capturing the color-rich environments and characters in bold and dramatic yet understated art. There are a few things to note: the length makes this one better for slightly older bookworms, as even JJ began to wiggle by the end, and there are some decidedly darker moments, including a none-to-subtle and barely-offstage death. But for fans of Gaiman’s signature macabre humor and Srinivasan’s strikingly beautiful illustrated art, this is a treasure of a fairytale. Baby Bookworm approved!

Many Moons (James Thurber)

Hello, friends! In honor of the solar eclipse, JJ and thought we’d pick a special book to celebrate, and we did so from our home library: Many Moons, written by James Thurber and illustrated by Louis Slobodkin, a clever tale of childhood innocence, hope, and wisdom.

The Princess Lenore had grown very ill, so her father the King offers to bring her anything in the world to comfort her. Lenore has one not-so-simple request: the moon. She assures her father that if she has the moon, she will be well again. The King is eager to help his daughter in any way, and so he calls upon his royal advisors who, despite being able to list their accomplishments at tedious length, all insist that the moon is too far, too large, and too unstable to bring to the princess. But the King’s clever yet kind court jester may have just the idea to bring the moon Lenore wishes for.

This is sort of an odd story, but it has such a sweet, innocent and optimistic resolution, and one that involves a child being far cleverer than the adults around her, that its charm cannot be denied. In doing a bit of research for our review, I found that the story has actually been illustrated by two different artists (there is another version with Marc Simont as illustrator), but I am partial to Slobodkin’s spare, squiggly art that captures the childlike tone perfectly. Now, a few downsides: this one is a bit too long for baby bookworms and, being published in 1943, there are some regrettable art and language choices (the two I noticed were use of the word “midget” and a racist depiction of a minstrel). These are very minor to the plot and story, but should be mentioned nonetheless. If you can get past them, though, this is an otherwise lovely story of young imagination, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!