This book was recommended to me by Tracy Kewley, who had been browsing my Pinterest boards and spotted that I liked Rob Ryan‘s work. She then thoughtfully (and accurately) deduced that I might enjoy Gibb’s illustrations for this book. I had never come across it and was knocked sideways with delight when it arrived!
The front cover is glorious enough in itself (I’m somewhat of a magpie when it comes to shiny, sparkly things) but, joy of joys, it gets EVEN better when you open the book up and start reading. Often the glitziest covers lead to somewhat of an anti-climax when you get to the story, but the opposite is true here.
Just as it says on the tin, the plot follows the search a princess’ search to find her kingdom, accompanied by her trusty steed, Pretty (not pictured here as I wanted to highlight the beautiful detail of this picture). Along the way, she delivers parcels to earn herself a bit of cash (hooray for self-sufficiency!).
The princess is a great example of a modern-day heroine, who isn’t swayed by riches or grandeur and is more interested in the jokes of a court jester than the fancy rituals of dining with royalty. She is also a polite person and someone who pops into the library every day to read – what a stonkingly fab role model!
The story is filled with dry humour (the Dowager Duchess’ daughters give the princess their hand-me-downs out of pity, but she interprets their gesture differently and doesn’t shower them with grateful praise but takes them away to sell, because you can, “…get a good price for royal cast-offs.” 🙂
She does, however, keep the red tights that the court jester gives her…
Gibb’s work is also reminiscent of Jan Pieńkowski, with the silhouettes contrasting starkly with the colour she uses and contributing beautifully to the completely believe sense of romance that infuses the story. A quiet moment’s exchange in an archway is all the more poignant because it takes place in the ‘shadows’.
Anyway, on one trip to the library, the princess discovers that there is to be a coronation the very next day, so she and Pretty gallop off to join the celebrations. Despite the fact that no-one is expecting her, the princess is very soon the centre of attention.
The other princesses are jealous of her (and no wonder, her dress is stunning even though it’s not considered ‘high fashion’) and the princes are soon fighting over her, throwing delicious desserts and scrumptious sweet things at each other to try and win her affection. C LOVES these scenes and we spend probably far more time than is normal or necessary discussing the pros and cons of the various cakes that fill the pages.
While in many other fairy tales the princess would be grateful for having multiple marriage proposals sent her way in the course of a single night, this tale is about a princess who doesn’t quite fit that mould. Having decided that the royal guests, “…are only good for a bunfight,” she and Pretty head off into the night, only to happen upon a chap who’s hit a spot of bother. I love the fact that the princess jumps straight down and helps him hoist his horse and cart out without worrying about what she’s wearing or whether she’ll be strong enough.
Needless to say, she’s more than capable of lending assistance and is about to leave when she recognises the stranger as the court jester who gave her the red tights (he is a jester no more, as his contract had run out. Brilliant.). Turning yet another tradition on its head, she proposes to him and after dinner and a chat, the court jester accepts and declares, “I’ll do the jokes, you cart your parcels and together we’ll make a go of it.”
Obviously, they live happily ever after, but within an equal partnership that makes them both happy. This story is built upon realism mixed with romance, dreams mixed with a DIY attitude and a healthy dollop of wit, wonder and whimsy.
I will be seeking out the entire back catalogue of both Sarah Gibb AND Ursula Jones, but I also very much hope that they collaborate again as together they seem to have produced picture book perfection. It’s a particularly good choice for those who are keen on all things pink and princessy but are perhaps seeking out story with a little more substance, although frankly I cannot imagine ANYONE who would not enjoy this book. C, H and I are smitten!