Book: The Princess in Black
Authors: Shannon Hale and Dean Hale
Illustrator: LeUyen Pham
Age Range: 5-8
I've been wanting to read The Princess in Black for a while, the premise of a black-clad, superhero/princess being irresistible. But I waited until I could read it to my daughter. She received a copy for her birthday in April, and recently (after I had left it prominently displayed in her room), asked me to read it to her. ("Read that black princess book, Mama."). We ended up reading it in one sitting, and I predict that we will read it again. The Princess in Black is delightful. The sequel is already on our wish list.
The Princess in Black is a very early chapter book with a large font, and color illustrations on every page spread. The Princess in Black was written by husband-and-wife writing team Shannon and Dean Hale, and illustrated by LeUyen Pham. The Princess in Black, as is clear from the cover image, is not your traditional, pink dress-wearing, waiting-to-be-rescued princess. No, the Princess in Black is basically a secret superhero.
As the story begins, Princess Magnolia, clad in a puffy pink dress, is entertaining a nosy duchess. But when Magnolia's glitter-stone ring starts to ring, she knows that her monster-taming services are needed. Princess Magnolia excuses herself, changes clothes in the broom closet, escapes the palace via a secret chute, and rushes off to save the day.
The premise alone makes The Princess in Black worth reading. But the writing is also pitch perfect for the age group. The Hales use short sentences, but also don't shy away from precise, descriptive vocabulary. Like this:
"Princess Magnolia minced to the door. Her glass slipper went tink-tink-tink-tink.
"You're going to just leave me here?" said the duchess.
"I'll hurry back!" said Princess Magnolia.
She smiled sweetly. She shut the door softly.
And then Princess Magnolia ran."
I read this title aloud to my daughter, but I think that a developing reader could manage it without too much help. The chapters are short, and the storyline is clear cut. There's a bit of viewpoint change, between the princess, the duchess, and a goat boy, but the plentiful illustrations will help kids to keep the story straight. There are monsters, but they are not particularly scary. Princess Magnolia is brave and skilled, and not in the least intimidating.
LeUyen Pham's illustrations are perfect for the tone of the book. The monsters are colorful and a bit goofy. Magnolia comes across as intrepid, but still with a nice smile on her face (beneath her black mask). Some of the pictures have a comic book feel (like the fight between Magnolia and a monster), while others are more conventional. There are hints that careful readers can use to predict elements of the plot (like a not-so-hidden trapdoor in a tree). It's all perfect for the age range, and much more fun than a traditional early chapter book. The illustrations are more like what one would find in a picture book.
Although The Princess in Black is about, well, a princess, I don't see any reason why a five-year-old boy wouldn't enjoy it, too. Magnolia is a secret superhero, complete with hidden passages and a mask. She literally kicks monster butt. She in fact inspires the goat boy to try his hand at being a superhero. Perhaps she will inspire your sons. But certainly she will inspire your daughters. And she'll do it with a smile on her face, and great hair.
Actually, my daughter said that she thought that Princess Magnolia looked better in her puffy pink dress than in her black superhero costume. And that, my friends, is why it's important that she has The Princess in Black on her shelf. To broaden her perspective, and show her, in a light-hearted, fun-filled way, that girls can be the ones who take action. Even if they are princesses.
I highly recommend The Princess in Black as an early chapter-book read-aloud to four and five year olds, or as an early read-it-yourself title for early elementary school kids. I look forward to sequel, and hope that the princess will have many future adventures.
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: April 14, 2015
Source of Book: Personal copy (a 5th birthday gift received by my daughter)
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