________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 13 . . . . February 28, 2003


Princess Backwards.

Jane Gray. Illustrated by Liz Milkau.
Toronto, ON: Second Story Press, 2002.
24 pp., cloth, $14.95.
ISBN 1-896764-64-9.

Preschool-grade 2 / Ages 4-7.

Review by Helen Norrie.

* /4

Princess Backwards, by British Columbia author Jane Gray, is an example of a picture book idea that doesn't quite convince. The idea behind the book is that the princess lives in a kingdom where everyone performs backwards--walks backwards, shoots backwards, eats their dinner in the morning and their breakfast at night, etc. The princess, however, is different. Because she likes to do things in a forward manner, she is criticized for being strange. When a dragon menaces the palace, the princess is justified as the archers cannot shoot their arrows fast enough since they are looking over their shoulders, and only the princess, who runs forward, can reach the dragon in time.

internal art

     This idea of a reverse kingdom is amusing and could have been successful if it had been completely consistent. But it's not. The princess' name is "Fred" rather than a girl’s name because it is "backwards." Why not call her "Refinnej" or "Amme" and make it truly reversed? When the dragon approached the town, the townspeople are shown running away. But they don't appear to be running backwards; several, including the animals, are clearly running forwards. The dragon, who keeps advancing, obviously doesn't adhere to the rules either.

     Part of the confusion here may be in the illustrations by Toronto artist Liz Milkau. While they are colourful and large (full page), the expressions and positions of the characters are often unnatural.

     Perhaps another problem is that this book is obviously designed to teach a moral. Consider the final sentences:

From that day forward, Princess Fred and Marvin were good friends. She taught the guards how to shoot arrows forward, and Marvin became the fire marshall for the kingdom. And no one thought there was anything wrong about Fred being a little different, because they realized that different wasn't wrong. It was just different. And sometimes, different is a lovely thing to be.

     Teaching a lesson that "different is a lovely thing to be" is an admirable ambition. However, if teaching a lesson is the main idea of the story, then the story suffers. That appears to be the problem with this little book. While the story may amuse very young children, more observant young readers will find this picture book rather silly.

Not Recommended.

Helen Norrie writes the monthly “Children's Books” column for the Winnipeg Free Press. She has taught children's literature courses at the University of Manitoba .

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

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