________________ CM . . . . Volume I Number 18 . . . . October 13, 1995

image The Gypsy Princess

Written and illustrated by Phoebe Gilman.
Toronto: North Winds Press, 1995. 32pp, cloth, $15.99.
ISBN 0-590-24441-8.

Kindergarten - grade 3 / Ages 5 - 8.
Review by T.S. Causabon.


Cinnamon left the banquet hall and went down to the great gilded gates. Opening them cautiously, she stepped onto the rough road that led away from the palace.
The wind whispered, "Cinnamon, Cinnamon." She wanted to follow, but it was too hard to walk in the high-heeled princess shoes. Cinnamon turned back.
That night, as she tossed and turned upon her soft princess bed, her old auntie again appeared in her dream.
"Who are you, my child?" she demanded.
And Cinnamon answered, "I cannot remember."
The next morning, Cinnamon was more restless than ever. The bars of the palace gates seemed like the bars of a gilded cage.


Phoebe Gilman, the award-winning creator of Something from Nothing, has written a parable about Cinnamon, a Gypsy girl who lives in a caravan, reads fortunes in a crystal ball, speaks to the wind, and dances with a bear. Of course, what she really wants to do is dance with princes, like the blonde Princess Cyprina.

And when Princess Cyprina herself comes to Cinnamon's caravan to have her fortune told, she is so intrigued by the dark Gypsy girl that she invites Cinnamon to come and live and play in the palace with her . . . as Princess Cinnamon.

What Cinnamon discovers, of course, is that it's much more interesting being a wild Gypsy girl than a princess (though it takes several pages before she finally tries leaving the palace barefoot).


Gilman's illustrations are striking -- a note at the front says that they were "built up in layers of oil and egg tempera on gessoed watercolour paper" to give them their luminosity -- and full of rich, romantic detail (mermaids swimming towards a pirate ship, say, or the miniature painting inset in every text page). And the book's design takes advantage of them by using an appropriate fairy-tale style. Each text page faces a painting in an elaborate frame. The frames, as Tolkien pointed out, are important; they are part of what creates the sense that Faërie is a different sort of place, one you can't just bring snapshots back from.

But the illustrations are stronger than the writing of what is ultimately a very simple tale with no villain, danger, or real conflict. Cinnamon's Gypsy life is so much more interesting than her princess life that we're impatient for her to figure it out too and go back home. (The paintings of the Gypsy life are richer and more vital as well, particularly the final two of Cinnamon once again dancing with her bear.)

That the real romance is in the Gypsy caravan rather than in the vapid gilded princess life is both the book's moral and its weakness. Still, the illustrations, and the glimpses of the Gypsy world (really a nineteenth-century ideal of Gypsy life, of course), will be enough to charm many young readers.


Recommended with reservations.

T.S. Causabon is a children's author and freelance writer living in Winnipeg.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © 1998 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364