Monday, March 3, 2008

Jewish Literature Challenge, 4 of 5

Such a Prince, by Dan Bar-el with illustrations by John Manders. Published in 2007. Click on the cover to buy from your local Booksense-affiliated independent bookseller.

Such a Prince, a new picture book for elementary-school children by Dan Bar-el, is a lively retelling of the "three peaches" folktale about a sick princess who needs three perfect peaches to get well. In return for providing the peaches, her father, the king, promises the girl's hand in marriage. This version is narrated by Libby Gaborchik, a fuss-budget little fairy who takes a liking to a skinny, feckless young man named Marvin and helps him win the princess.

The book is a joy from start to finish. The story is funny, the characters are recognizable fairy-tale types used perfectly. My favorite character is the unabashedly loud-mouthed, assertive Princess Vera, who even from her sickbed will express herself in quite the forthright manner. And the pictures! The guache and colored-pencil pictures are appealing, colorful and complement the fast-paced, rolly-polly story. Even the endpapers, depicting bunnies bouncing here and there, contribute to the overall atmosphere of hyperkinetic action.

When I first read the book silently, I enjoyed the humor and the beautiful, vibrant illustrations. But it really came to life when I read it out loud- Libby's playful, irreverent tone, only a little sarcastic at times, is a great match to the bouncy, bright pictures, and sounds great when spoken. The lively Yiddish-inspired syntax is to blame. Even without using a single Yiddish word Bar-el does a great job of capturing the uniquely expressive sound of Yiddish-inflected English and it's this trait that lends the book so beautifully to being read aloud. So read it, enjoy it, have fun with it, and read it out loud- though you might have to ham it up a little to really do it justice!