Monday, February 20, 2012

Special Section: Princesses in Pink - PRINCESS HYACINTH and PINKALICIOUS

  • Heide, Florence Parry. Princess Hyacinth: The Surprising Tale of a Girl who Floated. Illus. Lane Smith. NY: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-375-84501-7. $17.99. Ages 4 & up.
  • Kann, Elizabeth, and Victoria Kann. Pinkalicious. Illus. Victoria Kann. NY: HarperCollins Children's Books, 2006. ISBN: 978-0-06077-639-8. $17.99. Ages 5 & up.
Girlie princess books are a dime a dozen these days, and the majority of them are just plain awful. You know the picture books that I am talking about, the ones that are wrapped in shiny pink covers, doused with glitter, and contain computer-generated illustrations and terrible stories. Factor in the multi-billion dollar, and increasingly permeating nature of the Disney Princess industry, and you’ve got a full-fledged princess plague on your hands.

An example from this nightmare of a genre, even though it is not exactly a “princess” book, is the Pinkalicious series, by Elizabeth and Victoria Kann. These books are extremely popular with young girls, but for all of the wrong reasons. The illustrations are too much to handle (think if Lisa Frank and Barbie had a Candy Land themed acid trip), and the story lines are sub-par to say the least. The bottom line is there are so many better picture book options for young girls, even books about princesses Case in point: Princess Hyacinth: The Surprising Tale of a Girl who Floated, written by Florence Parry Heide and illustrated by Lane Smith. 

Princess Hyacinth is the perfect counterattack to the Princess Problem. As a fabulous new take on the classic fairy tale, with amusing language and gorgeous illustrations to boot, it is no surprise that this picture book has been nominated for the 2011-2012 California Young Reader Medal.

Children devour this story for its stubborn, adventurous, and relatable heroine, a young princess who only desires to go outside to play. While parents appreciate the text for its elevated language, which is entertaining and challenging but not too advanced to go over a young reader’s head.

 Princess Hyacinth is the ideal book for reading out loud as well. Little ones sit on the edge of their seats, hanging on every word of the tale of poor Princess Hyacinth, the girl who floats. Her mom and dad (the King and Queen), make her wear a very heavy crown strapped under her chin, as well as a very thick robe, and even weighty socks that have little golden pebbles sewn into them, to keep their royal daughter on the ground. For if Princess Hyacinth doesn’t wear her princess clothes she just floats up, up, up.

 But Princess Hyacinth wants to float around outside! She is tired of dragging herself around the castle, and spending her days looking longingly at the children playing outside on the palace grounds (while she sits in her swimsuit, strapped down to her chair). Needless to say, Princess Hyacinth is “terribly, horribly, dreadfully bored,” so one day she decides to take matters into her own hands and do something about it…

Heide’s use of dramatic, yet playful, language (“alas and alack!”) is part of what makes this book so enjoyable. As Princess Hyacinth floats, kids love to hear how she “whirled and she twirled, she swooshed and she swirled, she zigged and she zagged and she zigzagged. She zoomed and caroomed and cartwheeled.” This type of creative, yet elevated, language draws young readers further into a story, and increases their vocabulary with new words and expressions.

Heide’s story is brought to life with Lane Smith’s phenomenal illustrations. Smith’s pictures are whimsical and sweet, but relatable too. For example, Princess Hyacinth doesn’t look like a Barbie-doll princess, but rather a cute little 8-year-old girl. Smith’s work is colorful, but it does not attack the eye, and there are plenty of things to look at on each page (such as the different animal-shaped topiaries on each page). The book also makes illustrations of the text itself, using different colors, fonts, and sizes to make the text playful. For example, when Heide writes that Princess Hyacinth floats “up, up, up,” the line of text itself floats up, up, up the page.

Unfortunately, our society’s obsession with pink, glittery, princesses will probably only get worse before it gets better. But there is no need to despair over the Princess Problem, as long as there are still intelligent, and entertaining, books like Princess Hyacinth to counteract the jarringly pink, computer-generated, monstrosities.  

Caitlin Kennedy

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