Cynthia C. DeFelice, , illus. by R.W. Alley. . FSG, $16 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-374-36220-1

DeFelice (The Ghost and Mrs. Hobbs) hits the mark with this tale of wishful identity, amiably chronicled in Alley's (Little Flower) warm portrait of a hardworking family. Dulcie lives on a farm but is convinced that she's really a princess named Dulcinea. As she mucks out the chicken coop, she fantasizes about her "real mother [who] does not believe in broccoli" and her "real father [who] does not have manure stuck to his boots." Her parents wisely let her go off in search of her royal fate. Alley portrays the spunky heroine clutching a book when she's not in the farmyard—a collection of princess stories. In the "castle" (her own barn) she discovers that, compared to the stories in her book (one princess is made to "wear rags and sleep in the ashes," another is locked in a tower by a witch), her life might not be so bad after all. In a break with the book's otherwise realistic treatment—and its only weak spot—ogres and trolls threaten Dulcie, then disappear when she tells them she's not a princess. But the ending returns to the book's strength, a full-blooded family that welcomes her home. Author and artist present an appealing family, warts and all, and the brother's caustic remarks act as the perfect foil for the parents' expert handling of their daughter. Alley plays up the contrast between Dulcie's humble circumstances and the glittering life she wishes she led, yet makes clear that she lacks for nothing. A smartly told story with a gentle moral. Ages 4-8. (Sept.)