hooray for a decent prince and a woman with a bit of spunk!

the princess and the packet of frozen peas.jpg

by Tony Wilson and Sue deGennaro - Peachtree Publishing, 2012
ages 2 to 12 years / funny

We have quite a collection of princess-and-the-pea stories, mainly because Alec (our second son) was called Princess for quite a few years after a camp where he slept on a whole pile of mattresses. This one is great.

Prince Henrik needs to find a proper princess to be his wife. 

Trouble is, he wants a wife who likes hockey and camping.

These are difficult qualities to find in a real princess and when he looks at his sister-in-law, who passed the infamous pea test, he’s not so sure that that’s the best way to choose a princess. So.... 

He decides to adjust the pea test to suit himself! And potential princesses fail miserably. Henrik is looking for someone who can sleep on a camp bed even when there’s a packet of frozen peas under the (thin) mattress.

Then, while spending a day with his old school friend Pippa, Henrik notices ‘what a lovely laugh she had’ and decides to use his packet-of-frozen-peas test on her.

She passes with flying colours – the frozen peas turned out to be a helpful cold-pack for her shin, sore from playing hockey.

And you can guess how it all ends. The story is a marvellous twist on a classic and the illustrations follow suit – they’re sharp and modern and I love the use of a range of typefaces to give lilt to the reading of the tale.

I love the play on the word 'sensitive'. Henrik’s sister-in-law (the one who passed the pea test) is described by her husband (Henrik’s brother) as being:

very beautiful and very sensitive” 

And then Henrick watches her being sensitive all over the palace – the typeface and the phrasing practically beg for a sarcastic tone. 

Familiar but slightly twisted tales like this are a great way to teach some of the language devices so important in modern society – and sarcasm is just one of them. This is, if course, a very gentle introduction; and it works wonderfully well.

I also love that in becoming a princess, Pippa doesn't have to sacrifice who she is - and that Henrik is the kind of straight up sensible young man who isn’t interested in affectations. Pippa doesn’t fit the traditional princess mould and doesn’t seem to have any desire to do so. 

Henrik doesn’t save her or whisk her away, they are simply best friends with a great deal in common, who fall in love and decide to marry. Perfect.

This is an enjoyable antidote to too much princess-pink and it's an obvious choice to read to girls. But it’s also a really great book to read to boys. Girls are not the only ones conditioned to think that girls should be ‘very beautiful and very sensitive’ - this book helps to give permission for boys to look for something else, both in their friends and later in their wives. 

The Princess and the Packet of Frozen Peas is a timely reminder that:

There’s more to life than primping and preening.
The best qualities in a friend are shared interests and shared values.
People are complex and shouldn’t be reduced to window dressing.
There’s always another way to look at life.
Sometimes it’s a good idea to step outside the usual social boundaries
Old fairy tales sometimes have pretty dreadful themes, they could do with a good twist or two.

Here's the back story from author Tony Wilson (find his sites here and here and illustrator Sue deGennaro here):

"The Princess and the Packet of Frozen Peas grew out of an essay I wrote about meeting and falling in love with my wife, Tamsin. It was for a book called ‘How We Met’ and it centres on the fact that we did NOT fall in love at first sight, perhaps because my eyesight is so bad.

In thinking about that, I remembered how much I hated the love-at-first-sight story of the Princess and the Pea. In my opinion, the princess had no cause to complain about that pea."


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Names in this book: Henrik, Hans, Eva, Pippa