Olivia Zisman, a bookseller at BookPeople in Austin, Tex., recommends Johan Troïanowski’s The Runaway Princess, a middle-grade graphic novel about a girl who longs for adventure beyond the castle walls.
When I stole away from the sales floor for a quiet moment with our ARCs, my eyes struck upon the brilliant colors and fanciful cartooning of a comic album before finally settling on its title: The Runaway Princess. A princess with the same free spirit and rebellious nature as the titular character in The Paper Bag Princess? She was someone I could get behind.
Borrowing from the likes of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, writer and illustrator Johan Troïanowski introduces us to Princess Robin, our incautiously optimistic heroine who falls heart-first into every adventure. Whether winding her way through a forest of ogres and gnomes, attending an “aquatic carnival” of sirens and sea serpents suspended in water droplets, or navigating by firefly glow through the Autumn Witch’s Kingdom of Darkness, Robin greets each challenge with a warm welcome, boundless curiosity, and resolute courage. Troïanowski composes The Runaway Princess with three twisting, turning narrative arcs and asks us to enter his world of strange logic and magical beasts with the same wild abandon as his main cast of characters.
Wild, too, are his stylistic decisions for illustration. Troïanowski draws his characters with a huge-eyed cartoonishness similar to French comic artists Kerascöet (Beautiful Darkness). With unrestrained color yet sensitive expression, his ink, crayon, and watercolor drawings evoke warm, fuzzy feelings of nostalgia to renew our childlike wonder over portals into secondary worlds. He also uniquely approaches the comics medium by having Robin implore readers to solve brain teasers that are obstacles to her path forward, which gives us a roleplaying opportunity to interact with the characters and their environment. Like his artwork, Troïanowski’s well-timed puzzles maintain the integrity of his rich and engaging storytelling while also immersing us further into the fantastic.
With the holidays fast approaching, young readers will be out of school and looking for their next good read at BookPeople, so I cannot wait to share in the joy of Random House Graphic’s debut title with our BookKids. The Runaway Princess, with its pay-it-forward courage and kindness, belongs in every runaway’s bindle.
The Runaway Princess by Johan Troïanowski, trans. from the French by Anne and Owen Smith. Random House Graphic, $20.99 Jan. 21 ISBN 978-0-593-11840-5