March 16, 2012

The Princess and the Pea

The Princess and the Pea
By Hans Christian Anderson
Illustrated by Dorothee Duntze
No Author Site
No Illustrator Site
3-4 Preschool North-South Books 22 pp.
1-55858-034-4 Hardcover $16.99

Though authorial credit is given to Hans Christian Anderson, who wrote his version of this tale in 1835, this picture book edition is clearly meant to showcase Dorothee Duntze's stylized, evocative illustrations. It is unclear how much of the text originates with Anderson or to whom the translation should be attributed, nor are there notes in any form contextualizing the tale. This is a shame given the fact of it's uncertain origins and enduring popularity as a fairy tale.

That said, the illustrations are gorgeous and full of intriguing detail (the double page spreads of servants searching the garden for a pea, and the triumphant garden wedding, replete with parrots and medieval pageantry, especially stand-out). The prose, though slightly awkward at times (certain phrases, such as "real princess" and "old queen" are repeated several times in a single sentence) is casual and brief. The story moves briskly along, with ample illustrations to keep the eyes of older toddlers and preschoolers happily engaged. There are even touches of absurd humor as Duntze depicts the princess getting a boost from a servant and then climbing a ladder the rest of the way up the top of the bed, which is twenty mattresses high. The casual tone, established by the conversational narrative voice ("The pea was put in a glass case and is there still unless someone has carried it off. So you see, this is a true story!"), is naturally engaging while the brevity of the story itself won't tax the attention span of young readers and listeners.

All in all, the text is so accessible and Duntze's illustrations such a pleasure to look at, that this edition of The Princess and the Pea is a lovely introduction to both this story and to fairy tales in general. A good choice for small group story times, it would be even better enjoyed at home, where the softly detailed images can be more easily seen and engaged.

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