Goodreads: Ella Enchanted
Summary: At birth Ella was cursed by the fairy Lucinda with the gift of obedience. She has to follow any order given by anybody, even if she receives a command that endangers her or others. Determined to gain her freedom, Ella sets out on a journey to find Lucinda and beg her to take back her gift. Rescue, however, may come from a more unexpected quarter. A Newbery Honor book.
Review: Ella Enchanted stands out among retellings of “Cinderella” both for its original premise and its fully-realized world. Levine takes the question of why Cinderella would submit to so much abuse from her step-relatives and answers it by suggesting that perhaps she literally had no choice. From there, the book explores the nature of free will and the gift of choice. The resulting drama plays out across a richly detailed world peopled with unforgettable characters from the ogres who can seduce their victims to cook themselves to the giants who prove friendlier than readers might expect. Readers will find themselves, like Ella, enchanted.
Much of the book’s charm stems from Levine’s quirky and wry sense of humor. Though Ella suffers under the rule of her step-relatives and from the neglect of her father, Levine manages to make these characters as funny as they are odious. Their obsessions with wealth, power, looks, and status set them up as the objects of various jokes, making the subtle point that a person can never gain respect by focusing on these false idols. Instead, the book celebrates virtues such as love, loyalty, honesty, and generosity, all so naturally that Levine never seems to be moralizing.
With its spirited heroine, intriguing premise, and heart-wrenching emotion, Ella Enchanted proves a timeless tale that bears repeated readings. It has rightfully taken a place among the classics of children’s literature.
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Goodreads: Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep
Series: The Princess Tales
Summary: Princess Sonora was cursed at her naming ceremony by the fairy Belladonna to prick herself on a spindle and die, but another fairy altered the curse so Sonora and the rest of the castle will sleep for a hundred years. Generations later, in the kingdom of Greater Kulornia, Prince Christopher has a lot of questions that no one can answer. Everyone just recites the old proverb “Princess Sonora knows, but don’t ask her.” Then, one day, a visiting shepherd tells him, “Princess Sonora knows, but don’t ask her…because she’s asleep.” Christopher sets off to find the legendary Sonora to ask if she can help solve his kingdom’s latest problems. A retelling of “Sleeping Beauty.”
Review: Gail Carson Levine brings humor to another well-loved fairytale by making Sonora a princess blessed at birth with extraordinary intelligence. From that moment on she does not coo but begins reading treatises on how to improve the everyday workings of the castle. When she begins to crawl and then walk, she sets daily distance goals and travels in straight lines and perfect circles. Sonora, however, is not as boring as all her reading and talking encourages everyone to think. She is witty and often comes to conclusions that are more imaginative than they are scientific. For example, she knows yeast makes bread rise, but when she wants to know why, she decides it is because bread is supposed to feed people and risen bread will feed more people than flat bread will.
The other characters are equally as wonderful. Her first would-be suitor is dreadfully dull and enjoys stating the obvious and enjoys listing the gifts he was given by the fairies at birth. He is Handsome. He is Tall. He is a Man of Action. (He used to be a Baby of Action.) Prince Christopher is much more delightful and enjoys asking questions, so readers know from the start that he and Sonora ought to be perfect for each other. But…after a hundred years, Princess Sonora is a bit dusty. Does Christopher really want to kiss her?
Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep combines elements of the classic tale and creative elements that are all Levine’s own. Fairytale lovers with a sense of humor and appreciation for the random will very much like this entire series.
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Goodreads: Cinderellis and the Glass Hill
Series: The Princess Tales
Summary: Ellis’s older brothers Burt and Ralph are best friends, but are uninterested in him and his inventions. When King Humphrey IV announces anyone who manages to ride a horse to the top of a glass tower will be allowed to marry Princess Marigold, Burt and Ralph decide to go and watch the fun. Ellis decides to test his new sticky powder on the glass hill. A retelling of “The Princess on the Glass Hill.”
Review: Cinderellis and the Glass Hill is fairly unique in offering a male protagonist. Readers will love the clever but lonely Ellis, who only wants his brothers to like him and to invent things that will make the kingdom a better place. Princess Marigold is equally charming and ingenious, and is also lonely because her father is always riding off on ridiculous quests for magical souvenirs. The strength of this book lies strongly on the characters, including a cat name Apricot and some beautiful horses. This will definitely be a favorite among animal lovers. It also includes all the imagination and wit found in the previous Princess Tales and is overall a delightful read.
Goodreads: The Princess Test
Series: The Princess Tales
Summary: Lorelei is a blacksmith’s daughter who seems to be allergic to and sensitive to everything; mostly she is good at embroidery. Prince Nicholas’s parents want him to marry, and they set up a ridiculous series of tests to find a true princess. Nicholas thinks no one is likely to pass, and hopes if they do not, he will be allowed to marry Lorelei instead. But then Lorelei shows up at the castle and is entered into the contests. Unable to help her in any way, Nicholas prays she will be able to do the impossible: feel a pea under twenty feather mattresses. A retelling of “The Princess and the Pea.”
Review: Levine’s story is delightfully fun, and as close to a “real” fairytale as retellings are likely to get. All the stories in The Princess Tales story are short (able to be read in half an hour) and function on the same bases as the originals. There is love at first sight, the good characters are generally pretty if not stunningly gorgeous, and it is perfectly obvious how everything will end. In short, they are wonderful.
The Princess Test is a witty retelling of “The Princess and the Pea.” King Humphrey is very fond of synonyms and enjoys stringing them together. Lorelei embroiders her family’s clothing with footstools instead of flowers. And there is not just the pea test for the princesses to pass, but a series of similar ones that are equally absurd. How many princesses will find a single stitch missing from a tapestry and from how far away?
In the end, Lorelei does demonstrate that she has compassion and will be a loving, not just a finicky queen. This is a nice touch that helps the reader cheer for Lorelei for more than the simple reason that Nicholas wants her to win, and it is a good lesson for children that a good character is one of the most important qualities a ruler should have.
Note: See Briana’s review of the book below!
Summary: Twelve-year-old Elodie leaves her home to apprentice herself to a mansioner, or actor, in the city of Two Castles, but instead finds herself the assistant to a detective dragon named Meenore. When an ogre commissions them to find his lost dog, Meenore suspects the case involves more than a missing pet and that someone intends to harm their new client. Elodie must enter the ogre’s castle to keep him safe, but she does not know whom she can trust. Inspired by “Puss in Boots.”
Review: Levine proves herself once again a master storyteller. A Tale of Two Cities takes the reader to an enchanting world where ogres and dragons exist side-by-side with humans and adventure waits around every corner, just waiting for someone to take the opportunity to grab it. Readers will feel as if they hear, taste, see, and smell everything around them as they explore with Elodie and take in this new place, so fully realized by Levine. If the plot itself did not exist, the audience would probably still feel compelled to continue reading, to live in this magical world just for awhile. Read the rest of this entry
Note: Krysta and I have each posted a review about this book. See Krysta’s post for the summary.
Review: A Tale of Two Castles comes as Levine’s first completely original book after a few years of penning fairy books for the Disney Pixie Hollow line, and it does not let readers down. There are problems with the story, certainly, which one is tempted to think an editor would have suggested Levine change if she were not quite so famous, but overall the work is highly creative and engaging. Like Ella Enchanted or The Two Princesses of Bamarre, A Tale of Two Cities keeps the reader turning pages to find out what happens next—and there are definitely a few surprises. The cast of characters is diverse, ranging from the likable protagonist Elodie to a detective dragon, a handsome cat trainer, a kindly ogre, and a flighty princess. Their interactions are delightful to watch, and readers are kept on their toes to observed them carefully to unravel the mysteries of their actions just as Elodie and the dragon do. Any fan of Levine will be thrilled to add this book to their collection. Read the rest of this entry
Summary: Aza has a beautiful voice in a country of singers, but others tend to notice only her physical unattractiveness. She longs to make herself pretty through the use of magic, but will find her happily-ever-after only when she learns to recognize her own worth. A retelling of “Snow White” and a companion book to Ella Enchanted.
Review: Fairy tales have traditionally utilized the physical appearances of characters to depict the states of their souls: beautiful faces denote characters of virtue and ugly faces characters of vice. The tellers of these tales probably never intended to suggest that physical unattractiveness predisposes one to evil or that beauty makes a person good. They probably meant only to create a system of symbolism that made the forces of good and evil easily identifiable for the audience. Fairy tales, after all, speak to a part of us that longs to know good triumphs in the end. Physical symbolism highlights the message of the story, leaving no room for ambiguity in the moral.
Modern audiences, however, tend to have less of an appreciation for allegorical symbolism than past ones, and fairy tales have suffered from criticism for their portrayals of good and evil characters. I personally doubt that most children actually come to believe that all ugly people are evil (or even all stepmothers) simply because they have grown up with fairy tales, but I do believe children (and even older readers) often place themselves in the action of the story. When princesses are invariably beautiful and virtuous and all princes handsome and daring, but the readers lack these qualities, barriers between the readers and the stories can result. On melancholy days, readers may wonder why they were never gifted with the qualities that would make them a heroine or a hero. Read the rest of this entry