For our Fractured Fairy Tale theme this July/August, I thought that it would be wonderful to begin with the mistress of postmodern retelling of fairy tales, Lauren Child. My daughter and I have done a video blog of her “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Book?” and I knew upon seeing this book from our community library that it would be a good opening for our bimonthly theme.
It is also a cute book to share with other librarians and fellow bibliophiles over at The Lemme Library who spearheaded Book Talk Tuesday. The host this Tuesday though is Sarah at Page in Training. I am sure that the regular participants would also be able to give us wonderful recommendations for titles on postmodern fairy tales that we can include until August.
A greeny-peasy peculiar twisty [the making of the book]. Lauren Child and Polly Borland have definitely gone over the top in the creation of this ingenious book. A miniature, three-dimensional world has been created to make the princess, the “handsome-enough” prince, the royal family, the castle, and the bed with the layers and layers of mattresses come alive. No detail is too pea-little or too chandelier-flashy for Lauren and Polly’s meticulous eyes. The process has been described at the back of the book:
Lauren cut the paneled rooms out of cornflake boxes and picture board and then painted them. She drew, cut out, and then dressed the characters in layers of paper. She tracked down all the dollhouse furniture. Anything she couldn’t find, she made, such as the magnificent bed with its twelve mattresses. Or she commissioned, such as the poached egg on the breakfast table. The crystal chandelier in the princess’s bedroom actually lights up. Everything was such a fiddly size, objects had to be pushed into place with tweezers.
Lauren Child has also imbued the narrative with her usual flair for puns and wordplay – thereby crafting her very own quirky version of a classic tale. On the one hand there is the casual dismissive gesture towards fairy tales in general -
Well, the king and queen did all the traditional fairy-tale things in order that their son might be bowled over by the right girl.
- yet, there is also a valuing of the essence of the narrative and what the tale stands for, without the proverbial loose ends.
The search for a ‘mesmerizing, fascinating, certain … something’ Real Princess. The story began with the Royal Family deciding that it was about time that the Prince got married:
You know what parents are like, and a prince’s parents are no different. The prince didn’t object to the idea but he did make one condition – he wanted to marry for love. He was just that kind of romantic boy.
He told his father and his mother, “I would gladly marry tomorrow but, whoever she is, she must be more mesmerizing than the moon and I must find her more fascinating than all the stars in the sky. And there must be a certain … something about her.”
Definitely a tall order – even for a Prince who is not even handsome-handsome – but merely handsome-enough. And so the story goes, with a tiny greeny-peasy twist to it.
Mind your Manners. The crux of the narrative can be summed up with this statement: one should always mind one’s manners – the mark of a true princess. Rather than reveal what the actual twist is, allow me to quote from Lauren Child herself in an interview that she has done with TeachingBooks – she felt that there was something awfully odd about this tale and she has made it her mission to rectify this seemingly-loose end:
I chose The Princess and the Pea by Hans Christian Andersen because it was really short. I’d always felt as a child that there was a bit of a flaw in the story, and I thought of a way of putting it right. I felt it was wrong that this girl would turn up at a royal palace in the middle of the night and be given everything she needs. And then in the morning when the Queen said, “How did you sleep?” She says, “Oh really badly, actually.” And I just can’t think of anybody who would say that to their host. I just thought it was incredibly rude, and it didn’t fit with her being a wonderful girl. For me, it didn’t make her a real princess; it made her a rather unpleasant character. I wanted to rewrite that, and I thought of a way of being able to do it. (source: interview by teachingbooks with Lauren Child)
Teacher Resources and Links. I was able to find quite a number of resources and links for Lauren Child’s books including The Princess and the Pea. This one is a downloadable teacher pack created by Museum Wales and includes a number of activities that can be done inside the classroom. What is amazing is that it includes all the other books done by Lauren Child.
This downloadable pdf resource shows the very incisive interview done by TeachingBooks with Lauren Child which does not only contain The Princess and the Pea but her other works as well. This link on the other hand shows a comprehensive review of the book as published in the Observer Review.
Lauren Child is not only talented, she is also beautiful. Lauren is considered to be one of today’s most innovative children’s writers and illustrators. She is best known for her Charlie and Lola books (now featured in an animated television series. She earned the Kate Greenaway Medal in 2000 for I Will Not Ever, NEVER Eat a Tomato and a second Nestlé Smarties Book Prize in 2002 for That Pesky Rat (2002) (source here). If you want to know more about her and her works, this is her official website.
Polly Borland is an internationally renowned photographer who specializes in portraiture. Her commissions included the Queen, Nick Cave and Germaine Greer.
She has also won the John Kobal Portrait Award and is a fellow of the Royal Photographic Society. She is also said to have exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in London and in Australia where she lives.
If you want to know more about her and her works, click here to be taken to her official website.
The Princess and the Pea in Miniature by Lauren Child and Captured by Polly Borland. Hyperion Books for Children, New York, 2006.