CM November 24, 1995. Vol. II, Number 6

image Princess Prunella and the Purple Peanut.

Margaret Atwood. Illustrated by Maryann Kovalski.
Toronto: Key Porter Kids, 1995. 32pp, paper, $16.95.
ISBN 1-55013-732-8.

Subject Headings:
Fairy tales.

Grades 1 - 3 / Ages 6 - 8.
Review by Leslie Millar.


In the morning the three plump pussycats poked and pinched Princess Prunella awake with their pointy paws. "We pity you," they whispered. "Your eyes are all pink and puffy, and that purple peanut is as big as a pumpkin. So we will remind you of what the white-haired wrinkly-wristed Wise Woman said: Perform three Good Deeds and your purple peanut will pop."
"What are Good Deeds?" said Prunella.
"You are a perverse pie-faced pudding-brain," said the three pussycats politely, padding pompously away on their polished paws. "You should have paid more attention!"

image Margaret Atwood is well known to adults as the author of more than twenty-five books of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. She is not, however, a complete newcomer to the children's scene. Princess Prunella and the Purple Peanut marks her fourth foray into the world of children's literature. (Her previous titles are Anna's Pet, Up in the Tree, and For the Birds.)

Modelled as a moral fairy tale, the problems in Princess Prunella arise from the Princess's selfish nature. She is completely preoccupied with her own beauty, disdainful of servants, and cruel to her pets. Her day of reckoning comes in an encounter with a Wise Woman, who poses as a poor person in need of food. True to form, Prunella rebuffs her and lets her know how distasteful she finds poor people. The Wise Woman casts a spell on Prunella, giving her a purple peanut for a nose. To break the spell, the Princess must perform three good deeds -- but she doesn't even know what a good deed is.


Needless to say, Prunella matures in the course of the story. She learns that it's what's inside that counts, and in the end she finds happiness by thinking of others.

Princess Prunella will work best as a "read-aloud" book. The complex sentence structure and advanced vocabulary may prove difficult, but reading aloud, with the illustrations for context, will clarify the fanciful wording. Reading aloud also allows the reader to demonstrate how words can be played with for fun. A warning, however -- even the most limber tongue will probably trip over Atwood's endless purple alliterations.


During my second reading of Princess Prunella I started to feel a bit annoyed, even bored. I just didn't want to wade through all those "P" words again. I began to suspect a case of style over substance, any substance being swamped by the tiresome cleverness of the style. On the other hand, this book should top any list of phonetic lessons for the letter "P."

The full and half-page illustrations on slick paper are filled with humour and whimsy that are sure to please all ages. Beautifully coloured in muted tones, and packed with detail befitting a princess's surroundings, the pictures are as much a story as the text.

Leslie Millar is a substitute teacher/volunteer in Winnipeg schools.

Copyright © 1995 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

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