The Paper Bag Princess

By Robert Munsch

Girls, don’t ever let a boy use you! That always feels like the message behind this great Munsch tale.

We start out in a beautiful castle with a beautiful princess who’s head-over-heels in love with her aloof (but handsome) fiancee. Then a dragon comes along, burning everything up and kidnapping Prince Ronald. Well, Elizabeth isn’t about to stand for this, and sets out to defeat the dragon. Not with swords and armour, of course – the only thing not burned up by the dragon was a paper bag. But Elizabeth has her wits and determination, and she wants her husband-to-be back!

I’ve always enjoyed this story. It’s like the children’s version of an adult show: the titular character is about to get married to her emotionally distant boyfriend, a massive crises ensues and she comes into her own. After defeating the world-ending evil, she realizes what a dirtbag her intended is and breaks free to become her own women! (Cue: dramatic guitar riffs)

This is a great story for kids, even if they don’t realize all the great messages going on in it. Just the image of a princess with a burnt crown and a paper bag is going to be enough to hook their attention. There’s also the repetitive factor that Munsch delivers very well, hooking kids in.

The illustrations are funny and detailed, done by frequent Munsch collaborator Michael Martchenko. (Can you imagine being in a conference with these two and only addressing them by their last names?) The Paper Bag Princess is a solid book, one of his earliest ones (number 3), and while he’s done better, this still reigns as one of the best.

Suggested Ages: 3-6

The Balloon Tree

By Phoebe Gilman

Have you ever told your child a bedtime story? I haven’t, but I’ve read reports of people who have. You start out with something fairly mundane – like a car ride. And then all of a sudden you take off to the moon and the car ride story turns into an epic adventure against the furry bat-men of Mars. Or something like that.

That how this book feels to me. It’s like Gilman’s children asked for a story about Princesses AND balloons, and this story is what resulted. I love it.

The Balloon Tree has it all. A princess in a castle, an evil Archduke, peril, secret passageways, a desperate quest, magic, salvation, and balloons. Pair that incredible artwork that features a ton of interesting, minute details, stories within the art and you have an amazing book.

Princess Leora’s father has to leave for a tournament. Scared of her uncle the Archduke, the King tells her that if anything goes wrong she should just release a bunch of her beloved balloons from the top of the tower and he will come rushing home to her. A great plan until the Archduke attempts a coup, destroying all the balloons so Leora can’t alert her father. With some advice from her friendly court wizard, Leora must now find one whole balloon so that she can summon her father.

Epic.

I think this book is a must-have for any little girls library (and little boys too). I’ve said it before (see Something From Nothing), but I love Gilman’s artwork. Not only does she create fantastic (and touching) stories, but she creates incredible artwork. The main pictures are well done, colourful, interesting, and lively, yes, but there’s more. Sometimes she shows the knights traveling, or creating movement by having someone break the barrier. It’s sheer magic.

Just look at the colours, the attention to detail! And these are two of the less Easter Eggy pages.

To me, this book is a lost classic. I think we read it to pieces, and I have no idea where my copy has gone (thus, “lost”). If you notice in the cover picture, this book has been around for 20 years, which tells me a lot of good children’s books came out in the 80’s. But more then that, it’s a testament to how good Gilman’s books are. I think children still know the name Jillian Jiggs, who has wonderful pigs that I made my mother make for me. And if you don’t know Jillian Jiggs, you are a heartless person who either suffered cruelly as a child, or is making your child suffer. Go, go, discover Phoebe Gilman. I promise you won’t be disappointed!

Suggested Ages: 3-6+ (or all ages)

 

Dear As Salt

By Rafe Martin

When my sister found out I was doing this blog, she demanded that I do this book. She wasn’t even aware of the title I had chosen at that point (I wish I had seen her expression when she first saw it. Alas, she lives in Alberta, so I am out of luck). So today, I shall tackle the inspiration for my blog and review Dear As Salt.

One day, a melancholy King decides to find out how much his daughters’ love him. He calls each of his three daughters before him, and pretends to be very angry, accusing each of not loving him enough. The first two daughters answer that they love him “as much as bread” and “as much as wine”, and the King is please. But when his youngest (Zizola) comes before him, she answers that he is “as dear as salt” to her. Viewing this as an insult, the king flies into a rage and orders her killed. Rolling her eyes, Zizola’s mother hides her daughter in a giant chicken-shaped candlestick and orders one of her servants to take it to the market and sell it to a decent man. A prince comes along, makes some nice (if unrealistic) remarks about how he would use the candle to give people comfort, and ends up with a giant, black, chicken-shaped candlestick with a hidden princess inside.

Dear As Salt is a great book for young girls in the 5-9 age range. It has humour, though the humour is visual, and never once touched on in the text; it’s very subtle, and more for the parents or sharp-eyed child. There are repetitive stanzas within the text to help children memorize the story and keep them engaged. The moral at the end, when the King finally realizes the meaning behind his daughter’s statement that she loved him “as dear as salt”, that she loved him most of all his daughters and he had her executed is quite effective. If it was done in movie form, it would be quite the climactic final scene.

The artwork is gorgeous; the colours are lush and vibrant and a real treat for the eye. It gives the feel of a Renaissance-type painting, with Italian-inspired backgrounds. There is very little white space, and the images beautifully reflect the text. There is a little disconnect between the serious tone of the text and the subtle jokes of the images (see again: giant black chicken-shaped candlestick). This book is a lot of fun for both parents and children to share together.

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