"All books are judged by their covers until they are read."
from The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling, by Maryrose Wood.
I try to read across a broad spectrum of children's literature, to help me in my job as a children's librarian. I take Reader's Advisory seriously and try hard to match each child with the perfect book. Towards that end, I picked up The Very Little Princess, thinking that I have been neglecting, (for lack of a better term) "girly-girl" books. The delightful pink cover with Elizabeth Sayles' fanciful artwork attracted my attention and sealed the deal.
I could not have been more wrong, however, in classifying this short tale as a lighthearted story for girls. (spoiler alert)
One fine June morning, Zoey is surprised by her mother's off-hand remark that they will be leaving soon for her grandmother's house.
Of course, visiting your grandmother probably is natural for you. But it wasn't for Zoey. The truth is she had never met her grandmother. Until that moment, she hadn't even known she had a grandmother!Zoey dutifully packs a cardboard suitcase (she is by nature a dutiful girl) and goes off to her grandmother's rural home where she is again surprised to find that her mother and grandmother do not appear to be on good terms. In fact, they argue heatedly, prompting Zoey to go exploring, and thereupon to find a most beautiful three and one-quarter inch tall doll. She is further surprised when the tiny doll sits upright and sneezes!
What child has not dreamed of a doll that comes to life? But this is not the doll of dreams. Princess Regina, (as she likes to be called), is a self-centered, bossy doll, a doll that treats Zoey as a servant. But Zoey, being by nature a dutiful girl, is not particularly bothered by Regina's selfish, narcissistic behavior. In fact, she comes to love the diminutive princess, and in her fashion, the princess loves Zoey, too. As the book jacket declares in similar terms, this is an expertly crafted story of family, friendship, love and loss. It is. It also, however, the story of a loss so profound that the dust jacket's cheery countenance might leave a young reader bereft, as she reads that Zoey's mother leaves her, with nothing more than a cheerful, "Be good," with a woman that a day ago, she never even knew existed. Zoey is left with her grandmother because her mother needs to be alone. Does this really happen? I'm sure that it does. Should it happen in a short, cheerful, small-sized book that is suggested for ages 6-9? I'm not sure. In the final chapter, the reader finds that the grandmother turns out to be a kind, wise, and loving woman, but the loss is still great. Place this book in the hands of a child who is capable of understanding and appreciating the story.
Read it as a well-told story, a unique story, even an enchanting story; but don't judge this book by its cover.