CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 14 . . . . March 2, 2007
The Ginger Princess. (Streetlights). [Former title: Mimi and the Ginger Princess.]
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 1988/2006.
95 pp., pbk., $8.95.
Determination (Personality trait)-Juvenile fiction.
Problem solving-Juvenile fiction.
Grades 2-4 / Ages 7-9.
Review by Renée Englot.
"Are you new here? Who do you belong to? I've never seen you before," Mimi said, making her voice soft and inviting. If the cat was a stray, maybe Mimi could talk her mum into letting her keep it. They had never had a cat before, but this one needed a home.
She made her noise again and gently rubbed her finger and thumb together.
The cat gave her a quick look of interest. Then she began to survey a route to Mimi from the top of the can. Mimi knew she would leap down and come to her in just a second.
Then, without warning, Mimi was deafened by a loud yell. A dark shape shot over the top of the Rutledges' fence.
"There she is, we got her cornered!"
Ricky Rutledge landed heavily in the alley between Mimi and the cat. He was holding an enormous canvas mail bag. Slowly, Ricky straightened up, keeping his eye on the cat.
Originally published as Mimi and the Ginger Princess in 1988, this novel was a Canadian Children's Book Centre Our Choice selection. For the most part, the novel has aged very well. Only a reference to an instant camera dates the work.
Mimi Kiguchi is a nine-year-old girl who loves cats. When she tries to befriend a stray kitten, she makes an enemy of the school bully who wants to use the kitten in a science experiment for the upcoming science fair. When the bully manages to catch the kitten, Mimi and her best friend attempt to set it free. After a failed attempt, they join forces with the class brain to overcome the bully.
In the third chapter of the book, Mimi's grandfather reads her the Japanese folktale "Momotaro" or "Little Peach Boy." The tale is related in full within the text. An elderly couple longing for a child find a giant peach, and a baby boy springs from the peach. Momotaro grows into a loving and altruistic young man who wishes to rid the land of the ogres who are terrorizing the people. Because he is generous with the treats his mother gives him, he gains a small band of allies who help him defeat the ogres. Pasnak quickly sets up parallels between Mimi and Momotaro, with Mimi eventually modelling herself and her quest after Momotaro and his quest.
The novel deals with an important topic - bullying. Mimi and her friends work up their courage and stand up to a bully. While their approach and the fact that the children do not seek adult assistance may not be in line with anti-bullying programs, the protagonist is empowered. Using friendship and intelligence, she is able to overcome a bully who is older, bigger, and stronger.
It is refreshing to have a protagonist from a visible minority group in a novel that it is not about being part of a minority. Mimi's Japanese ancestry adds lovely detail to the novel without making the novel about being Japanese Canadian.
The characters are believable, and young readers should be able to relate to them as well as to many of the situations within the novel. Mimi must deal with watching out for a pesky little brother, with a lack of attention from her parents - one travels, the other works long hours, and with the dissatisfaction of loving cats when her father's allergies prevent her from owning one. There is also much gentle humour in the novel. Misadventures with little brothers, dogs and disguises make the novel enjoyable to read.
Renée Englot, a former junior high school teacher now working as a professional storyteller in school settings, holds a Master of Arts in Children's Literature.
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