When I was small, I would beg my mum to take me to the bookstore at every opportunity. While she shopped, I would devour as many books as possible (to the extreme annoyance of the shop assistants), setting aside a few meatier ones to take home.
My obsession with books hasn’t abated but it took volunteering at a bookstore earlier this year to remind me how wonderful it was to lose myself in the magical worlds to which children’s books – especially picture books – can so quickly transport you. So I’m back to my old habits – and this time I’m sharing the fruits of these endeavours with you!
The book that most captured my heart recently was The Princess Who Had No Kingdom by Ursula Jones (sister of the late and great Diana Wynne) and illustrated by Sarah Gibb. Being a bit of a magpie I was immediately drawn to the shiny but not garish front cover and was then completely seduced by the delights inside.
The Princess Who Had No Kingdom – surprise surprise – is about exactly that. A Princess travels the lands in her cart drawn by her pony Pretty, looking for a kingdom to call her own. She supplements her meagre income by transporting and delivering strange cargo like ostrich eggs and troublesome grannies.
It’s hardly a groundbreaking narrative, but it is so charmingly told and chock-full of subtle insights into the human condition. As much as I love fairytales, so many – even modern-day ones – focus too much on being saved by a prince and marrying into wealth, instead of making your own way in the world. Jones manages to create an amusing and lighthearted romance with solid feminist values. Princess is practical and poor – the type of girl a queen only deems good enough for second-best biscuits, but her true love regards as worthy of his most treasured possession.
Jones’ carefully chosen words are perfectly complemented by Gibb’s exquisite illustrations, which are magical without being sickeningly girly. The use of silhouettes and curlicues reminded me of shadow puppets, which gave the images a sense of movement. Gibb appears to specialise in illustrating princess stories and fairytales, and I’d be interested in seeing more of her work, particularly her rendition of the Brothers Grimm’s Rapunzel.
I wasn’t able to put down – or forget- this fairytale. It is exactly the kind of story I’d have loved my parents to read aloud to me when I was younger. In fact, The Princess Who Had No Kingdom is the kind of story that makes me feel like a child all over again.
Orchard (September 2010)
32 pages, 27 x 24.6 x 0.4 cm