Saturday, March 1, 2008

M. M. Kaye

The Ordinary Princess
by M. M. Kaye
Recommended Age: 10+

Have you ever noticed that in fairy tales, the princess is almost always blonde, blue-eyed, porcelain-doll pretty, and loaded with demure feminine accomplishments like embroidery and music? Has this pattern started to get a bit dull? Well, look no further than the present book, written and illustrated by an accomplished author/illustrator who thought the same thing.

Dug out of a drawer and published years after it was written, it is a fairy tale with all the classic elements – a youngest-of-seven-princesses who steals away from home, disguises herself as a peasant girl, gets a job as a kitchen maid in a king’s castle, befriends little animals, and wins the young king’s heart. But it has just this one twist: the Princess Amy is ordinary. Cheerful, brave, healthy, and graceful to be sure, but quite ordinary!

Thanks to a crusty fairy’s christening curse (or is it a gift?), Amy has freckles, a snub nose, mousy hair, and a distressing tendency to prefer climbing trees to wearing brocaded gowns. She has seen all her older sisters married off, and now her royal parents are starting to worry about what to do with her. Shall they lock Amy in a tower and hire a dragon to lay waste to the countryside, until a suitable prince comes along to slay the dragon and win her hand in marriage? Not if Amy has anything to say about it.

And say something she does: “Goodbye.” Dressed as a commoner, Amy goes out to escape from the fairy tale in which she has no hope of living up to her role. But instead of escaping the fairy tale, she finds the place where she fits in it: a charming, cheering friendship that blossoms into romance; frolics in the woods with a pet squirrel and a pet crow; and a nursery rhyme that you know is a prophecy, even before the young lovers find out.

EDIT: Anglo-Indian writer M. M. Kaye (1908-2004) is best known for her historical romance novel (later a TV series and a London musical) titled The Far Pavilions, and for other adult novels of mystery and suspense. She also wrote several children's books, often under the name Mollie Kaye, most of them illustrated by one Margaret Tempest; plus, she illustrated many children's books by other authors. The only other children's book that she wrote and illustrated herself was titled Thistledown. Finally, The Ordinary Princess was also turned into a TV series by the BBC.

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