cover image The Wide-Awake Princess

The Wide-Awake Princess

Katherine Paterson. Clarion Books, $15 (48pp) ISBN 978-0-395-53777-0

As in The King's Equal and Celia and the Sweet, Sweet Water, Paterson and Vagin create a portrait of a strong female protagonist in their latest original folktale. At long last, a baby girl is born to the king and queen. But on the day appointed for the celebration, none of the guests show up, and all the castle soon falls asleep. All except for the baby princess; her fairy godmother hears her cries and grants her ""the gift of being wide awake all your waking hours."" Vagin's portraits of fish, fowl and beast napping on table and lawn as well as cooks snoring in the kitchen inject a strong dose of humor into the dreary castle backdrop. When Miranda is 12, her parents both die, and ""three angry nobles fighting over who should be king"" ban her from the throne. Each day she sets out into the kingdom to work, unrecognized, among her countrymen. She learns a great deal from the kind Amonth and his family, who offer her food and lodging, and she, in turn, shows them that they have what is needed to better their lives: a knowledge of history, letters and music. Though this tale may be more abstract than the collaborators' past efforts, the duo anchors the lofty ideas in tangible ways: Amonth's daughter weaves a tapestry of times past, his son reads by candlelight and Amonth plays the flute. The uplifting ending comes with a twist that restores order all around, and readers will likely enjoy watching Vagin's trio of archetypal villains grovel. Ages 5-8. (Mar.)