cover image The Castle Corona

The Castle Corona

Sharon Creech, , illus. by David Diaz. . HarperCollins/Cotler, $18.99 (336pp) ISBN 978-0-06-084621-3

colorfully adorned with intricate designs that loosely recall illuminated manuscripts, Newbery Medalist Creech's (Walk Two Moons ) protracted fairy tale traces how two orphaned peasants come to rub elbows with royalty. “Long ago and far away,” Pia and her younger brother, Enzio, discover a leather pouch marked with the king's seal. Before they can understand the meaning of the objects inside, the two children are whisked off to the Castle Corona to become “tasters” for a king fearful of being poisoned. There Pia and Enzio become acquainted with a spoiled princess and two young princes (one dreams of being a poet; the other wants to become a mighty warrior). As befits the genre, the author uses broader strokes than usual to define her characters. Members of the royal family are hopelessly out of touch with their subjects and busy themselves with tradition. Country folk and castle servants are more grounded and resourceful. Nonetheless, as royalty and peasant children intermingle inside the castle walls, perspectives broaden and the complexity of individual personalities comes to light. The playful tone and gentle criticism of aristocracy can be engaging, in much the same way that Creech's warmth and easy humor work well in her slice-of-life novels, but the fairy-tale genre raises expectations that go unmet. Readers may pine for a liberal sprinkling of magic and a more exciting climax before the conventional happily-ever-after ending. Ages 8-12. (Oct.)