Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘princess

Sometimes finding a book that a student has recommended can be an adventure. For example, I recently searched the library of the school where I teach for a Perfectly Princess book. Did you know there are six books, each has a different color and is about a different character?

Unless a student recommends a specific title in a series, I prefer to read the first book in the set. The first in the Perfectly Princess series by Alyssa Crowne was checked out, which seemed too bad because it was about school. I opted for the second. Turns out it was the right choice. When I informed my student that I had borrowed a Perfectly Princess book, she eagerly asked, “Did you get the purple one?”

Purple Princess Wins The Prize has an adorable appearance. All its pages are purple. Its cover is decorated with white stars. The illustrations are simple line drawings. One is easily drawn to this cute and colorful series.

What about the content? Purple Princess Wins The Prize has a predictable plot: the main character Isobal has a problem and faces a few obstacles in trying to resolve the problem. Isobal’s dilemma is that her twin brothers both have tons of trophies, while she has none. In reading a book about a princess who goes on a journey, Isabal is inspired to go on her own to win a prize. She tries to win a cupcake contest and later a fifty-meter dash. With this type of book, it should not spoil the ending if I tell you that eventually Isabel wins her prize and everyone is happy for her.

The book also has flat characters: Isobal is a pleasant girl with strong morals. These morals create a dilemma for her when her dad buys her purple sneakers for her race. The sneakers were the last in the store and so Isobal isn’t about to hurt her dad’s feelings by telling him they don’t fit. At the same time, she feels bad to lie to him. Her parents and best friend support her. Although normally her best friend is not allowed to eat sweets, her parents make an exception so that she can buy a cupcake from Isobal to eat. Everyone is refreshingly but also perhaps unrealistically good. As for Isobal’s siblings and rival classmate, they taunt her but also don’t turn out to really mean.

Ironically, even in grade school, students are taught that varying one’s sentence length and using ‘wow’ words make for the most interesting writing, while authors for the younger age groups are encouraged to keep one’s sentences all about the same length and to stick to a vocabulary list suitable for their intended age group. Emergent readers might very well prefer and even need this style, but it can also result in rather bland writing such as found in Purple Princess Wins The Prize.

As a reviewer, I owe it to my audience to finish books I critique. Funny thing about sticking to a book is that one can discover merits to it. Isobal is a character I could easily like and so I rooted for her even though I knew she would a prize. Because I didn’t know how she would win, I also had an interest in the plot’s direction. Purple Princess Wins The Prize is also a safe and positive read, something that can not always be said for today’s books for young people. Besides modeling strong moral values, the book encourages reading and writing without disparaging sports. It also presents positive messages about never giving up and working hard for what one wants.

Although I suspect its intended audience will soon outgrow the Perfectly Princess series due to its simplicity, the books do make for a safe and enjoyable read. I understand why they are popular among elementary-grade students.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

Dragon Sword and Wind Child by Noriko Ogiwara reads like the classics that I grew up with and which turned me into a lover of children’s books. Ogiwara is surely a writer to savor like hot chocolate on a cold day. Or is she?

Language alone cannot sustain a tale. The plot must also pull one. This is where I started to have doubts about this book. So many of the events confused me. I felt as if Ogiwara was explaining concepts alien to me, but which were so integral to the story that I could not fully appreciate the book’s depth. Yet the exotic worlds she introduces made me even further aware that I was not reading any ordinary writer.

The closest experience in reading Ogiwara that parallels is my first exposure to ethnic foods. For Chinese food to initially feel palpatable to me, I needed it coated in sweet sauce. For Sushi to feel comfortable to me, I needed it laden with tempura. The foods were so unusual I could not fathom liking them unless they were dunked in familiarity. Ogiwara sets her book in ancient Japan and incorporates its mythology. The landscape and its people fascinate me, the way treasures do in a museum. Yet those treasures are often enclosed behind glass, forbidden to touch, and so remain items about which to simply marvel. At times I felt caught up in Ogiwara’s tale of war and passion, but often I also simply felt overawed in a world unknown to me in my North American culture. While I can now savor ethnic foods without additions, I suspect I may need to better understand Japanese culture to develop a similar appreciation for Dragon Sword and Wind Child.

The book starts with Saya waking to a reoccuring dream. In that dream she met five people and soon enough she encounters those people in real life. They are the people of the dark or of the earth. They claim she is one of them. Later that very same day, while trying to make sense of their claim–because she was raised to worship the light, she meets the revered son of the God of Light: Prince Tsukishiro. He calls Saya the Water Maiden and invites her to join him in his palace to later wed.

So far, the book resembles a traditional good (light) against evil (darkness) fantasy story with some romance mixed in. It quickly departs from this norm. Saya moves into the castle of light, is followed by one of the five earth people, encounters an argument between the prince and his sister who claims that Saya is indeed of the dark, and…. These struggles are not part of any American folklore of which I am aware. The story becomes even more muddled for me, when the people of the earth talk about rebirth while the people of the heavens talk about being immortal. I sense Ogiwara is talking here about reincarnation, but am uncertain what other mythologies are covered, all of which makes me uncomfortable.

Often stories which appeal because of the wonder of their exotic worlds fail to capture our imagination upon rereading, because we begin to assimilate these other worlds into our mindset. Japanese culture aside, I will need to give Ogiwawa’s book another read to make a decision. Through her elborate tale of fantasy, she explores faith, love, immortality, death, perfection, compassion, and an endless list of other ideas. As such, the book is far more complex than the average children’s book and deserves esteem. How much I still need to determine.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

Have you ever dreamed of being heir to a throne? Mia hadn’t, but suddenly finds herself with a kingdom to rule. If you expect the book Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot to resemble the movie, to actually show her dealing with being a princess, think again. This is just another teen romance, and not a very good one at that, and should stay on the shelves.

True, I admit that I saw the movie first and so came to the book with certain expectations. For example, I envisioned reading about how tough becoming a princess can be for us average people but how sweet Mia overcomes the challenge with awkwardness and humor. I also anticipated reading pages upon pages about how Mia is trained in all the proper royal etiquette such as how to sit, walk, dance, dress, and talk. Next, despite how cliche the plotline sounds, I expected Mia to eventually endear herself to her the royal staff, incite the jealousy of popular students, and develop closer bonds with true friends. I wanted the story I saw on screen.

Yet sometimes a book is better than the movie. And so I think I could have lived with a different book, if not for all its flaws. From page one until the end, Mia complains about her life. In this way Mia is like the girl we see on the screen, except in the book she also swears, lies about most everything, and basically just seems more crude. She also struggles in school, frequently copies her homework off others, and disdains most of her teachers. She likes to shop, wants to be popular, and does not have any interest in doing anything with her life except to date. While these may be on the top of the list for many girls, the emphasis on them in the book makes it difficult for me to believe that she would have the ability to be a princess.

Even at this point, I probably could have forgiven the book except for one major drawback. The whole premise of the book is that Mia learns she is heir to the royal throne. This could have made for a worthy twist, except we rarely see Mia being trained to be a princess. Remove a few lines here and there that refer to her royal family or obligations and you wouldn’t even know that Mia was training to become a princess. Minus its gimmick, this book is just another teen romance. As such, it disappointed me.

My rating? Leave it: Don’t even take it off the shelves. Not recommended.

How would you rate this book?


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