cover image The Invisible Princess

The Invisible Princess

Faith Ringgold. Crown Publishers, $18 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-517-80024-9

Ringgold (Tar Beach) blends elements of fairy tale and American history in an evocative, if mystifying, picture book. When Mama and Papa Love, who are slaves in the southern Village of Visible, conceive a child, they beg the Great Lady of Peace to spare their baby from the cruel slave master Captain Pepper. Immediately after the girl's birth, she is miraculously whisked away by the magical Prince of Night and made invisible to human eyes. Only Captain Pepper's blind daughter, Patience, can see the Invisible Princess in all her glory, and her visions incite her father's ire. Patience and the Invisible Princess warn the slaves of impending danger, and the Great Lady of Peace and the Great Powers of Nature devise a plan to raise all of Captain Pepper's slaves up into the Invisible Village of Peace, Freedom and Love. The disjointed story shifts among several points of view, making the action difficult to follow. Because Ringgold squeezes folkloric elements into the concrete parameters of a particular era of history, her fantasy comes off as leaden and earthbound. Adding yet another layer to the allegory, scenes of slaves being stung by bees and raised ""up, up, up above the jet-black clouds of night into the Invisible Village of Peace, Freedom, and Love"" beg the comparison to Christian death and afterlife imagery. Ringgold's paintings of the deified Powers of Nature, especially the big-eyed Queen of Bees, ray-adorned Sun Goddess and the vampire-esque Prince of Night, have great presence and mythic proportions, but can't compensate for the tale's lack of internal logic. Ages 5-8. (Dec.)