August 08, 2013


Vampirina Ballerina Hosts a Sleepover. By Anne Marie Pace. Pictures by LeUyen Pham. Disney/Hyperion. $16.99.

A Real Prince Is Hard to Find: A Modern Fairy Tale. By Joanna Rivard. Illustrated by Adam Larkum. Bloomsbury. $16.99.

     In one of those wonderful stories whose words are straightforward but whose pictures skew everything quite deliciously, Anne Marie Pace and LeUyen Pham turn Vampirina Ballerina Hosts a Sleepover into a real delight for pre-readers and young readers, ages 3-5. The fun here comes from Pace’s matter-of-fact recitation of sleepover planning and etiquette, plus Pham’s amusingly twisted application of the words to Vampirina’s rather, um, unusual family circumstances. The words simply say that “you’ll need to cook up a menu” for the party, but the picture of the huge-tentacled thing in the stew pot says more than the words do. The words point out that “your friends will be dying to see your room,” while the picture shows what they find there: mummy, skull, coffin, tombstone dresser and more. The guests’ makeovers involve spider slippers, bat wings and such, and after an appropriate scavenger hunt (for a spider, bone, bat, dragon and such), a wonderful foldout portrayal of the whole group dancing – which takes up four full pages – makes a great climax for the evening. Then it is off to bed for everyone except, of course, Vampirina, who cannot sleep in the middle of the night and instead sits quietly reading The Sun Also Rises (presumably a child’s version!). After everyone leaves in the morning, then Vampirina can “rest in peace,” as the inside back cover pages show her and her whole family happily asleep following “the Best Sleepover Ever.” Both as a guide to real sleepovers and as a romp through Vampirina Ballerina’s thoroughly delightful (and not really very scary) world, Vampirina Ballerina Hosts a Sleepover is a winner of a story.

     One of the small amusements of Vampirina Ballerina Hosts a Sleepover is on the cover, where Pace is listed as “Countess” and Pham is identified as “Mistress of the Night.” Not true in either case, of course, but real-world royals are the subjects of A Real Prince Is Hard to Find, a very simple story of Kate and William and, at the very end, their new son, George. The book was written before the baby’s birth, so the gender and name of the baby are absent, but it is clear from Joanna Rivard’s writing where the whole story is going. In fact, it more or less floats in that direction, starting with young William wondering “whether he might be lonely in the palace (it was very large)” and continuing with him meeting “terribly pretty” Kate at university, where she has gone “to learn all kinds of interesting things.” The two soon become “the best of friends” and, in by far the most amusing scene and best Andrew Larkum drawing in the book, they go “on lots of adventures together,” which involve balloons that raise a dog, sheep and even a giraffe into the sky (not to mention that there is a bird, improbably held aloft by one of the balloons). There are celebrations after the two become engaged, and there is a wedding at which they “both said ‘I do’ in the right places (which is the most important part, after all),” and after the honeymoon there is a return to England and to a castle that “still felt quite large” until the book’s inevitable climax with the birth of the royal baby and everyone living happily ever after. The book may be a touch too sweet and a touch too swoony over the royals for some families’ taste, and the comment that “like many little girls, Kate dreamed of meeting a handsome prince” may be a bit much for some adults (if not children) to take; so A Real Prince Is Hard to Find gets a (+++) rating. But it will certainly be a royal treat for those who have breathlessly followed the story of Kate and William and, now, baby George.

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