The Princess and the Pea
Re-told and illustrated by Rachel Isadora
Putnam Juvenile; $16.99
32 pp.; ISBN-13: 978-0399246111
Review by Amy Brozio-Andrews
The well-known Hans Christian Andersen tale of the princess and the pea gets an international adaptation in this version by veteran award-winning children's book writer and illustrator Rachel Isadora (author of the Lili at the Ballet series).
Setting her story in Africa, Isadora tells the story of a prince searching for a true princess to marry. From far and wide come women to meet the prince, each identifying herself as a real princess. But in the prince's opinion, something isn't right about each and every one of them. One night, a traveling woman asks for refuge in the palace from a terrible storm. She says she's a princess and the prince's clever mother devises a simple plan to determine the princess's veracity -- a single pea tucked under more than three dozen mattresses and feather beads. Seeing his family's overnight guest awaken bruised and restless in the morning, the prince is overjoyed to meet a woman so delicate that she must be a true princess. And like any good fairy tale, the two marry and live happily ever after.
Rachel Isadora's writing style is serene and elegant, quite befitting the story of royalty. She seamlessly keeps to the elements of Andersen's original tale while moving the locale to Africa. Her tight focus remains on the prince and his quest for the right princess to be his bride. The continuity of the characters -- the prince, the princesses, the king and queen, and the traveling princess who spends the night on the bed above the pea -- maintains the primary building blocks of the original story, allowing the author to frame it in such a way that its appeal is renewed and broadened.
Her oil paint, printed paper and palette paper artwork is vibrant and expressive, exhibiting strong African influences and reflecting her time spent living there, as well as the artwork of Aaron Douglas and Romare Bearden. Bright colors and patterns of clothing and personal style (hair, jewelry), jewel-toned flora and landscapes give the reader a glimpse of a faraway land. The brushstrokes give texture and depth to the illustrations on each page; coupled with the printed papers used, the effect is quite dramatic, balanced well with the regal and more formal tone of the story.
The princesses who seek out the prince for consideration as his bride offer the prince greetings in their native languages, Amharic (Ethiopia), Somali (Somalia), and Swahili (Kenya). The only drawback is that the translation of the greetings isn't revealed until the very last page of the book, where the publication details are included, which makes it awkward when you're reading the book to a child and aren't sure what you're reading or what it means in the story.
The dress and visual depiction of each varies greatly, and a starred map of Africa on the final page of the book offers readers a quick guide to the basic geography of the book's setting, visually reinforcing the prince's exhaustive search for a proper bride. These touches reinforce the faraway setting and provide an opening for parents and kids to talk about geography, culture, and similar topics.
While Hans Christian Andersen might never have originally envisioned his princess and the pea living in Africa when his story was first published in 1835, we can certainly be glad that Rachel Isadora has.
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