Cornelia Funke, , illus. by Kerstin Meyer, trans. from the German by Anthea Bell. . Scholastic/Chicken House, $15.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-439-53630-1

Funke (The Thief Lord ; Inkheart ) handles the picture book form just as deftly as her novels, with sure-footed pacing and a well-placed thrust through the cardboard princess stereotype. Violetta's widowed father King Wilfred has some confused ideas about gender; he insists she learn to joust with her three brothers. At first, she can hardly lift a sword, but after much clandestine practice, Violetta can outride and outfight all her siblings. However, when she turns 16, the king arranges a tournament and says Violetta must marry the winner. "What!" she protests, "You want me to marry some dimwit in a tin suit?" Her father locks her up for her impertinence. Her youngest brother assures Violetta that he'll win and save her, but she demurs: "Thank you... but I think I'd better just see to it myself." Funke delivers a surprise ending that confirms her wit and her feminist leanings. German artist Meyer's friendly-looking ink-and-wash figures loiter, gallop, shout, and don and doff armor in Bayeaux-style tapestry panels that stretch across the spreads. The artist infuses the early drawings with just enough humor for readers to retain their sympathy for the buffoon-like brothers until they can redeem themselves through their later actions. Violetta's intelligence and perseverance shine through from first to last. Despite the fairy-tale surroundings, the heroine earns her triumph with believable determination, and readers young and old will root for her from start to finish. Ages 4-7. (Mar.)