I don't, in general, review picture books, but sometimes one comes my way that demands attention (in a good way). Such a book is Dangerously Ever After, by Dashka Slater, illustrated by Valeria Docampo (Dial, September 13, 2012).
It's the story of Princess Amanita, who loves dangerous things--her pet scorpion, her brakeless bicycle, but most of all, her beautifully, horribly dangerous garden, full of stinging plants, stinking plants, spiky plants...
And then Prince Florian comes to visit:
"Hello," he said. "Nice flowers."
"They're not at all nice," said Amanita. "Their itch is worse than a thousand mosquito bites."
Then she noticed the prince's sword, which looked very sharp and dangerous. "Nice sword," she remarked.
Florian's sword unfortunately proves sharp enough to slice off what he assumed were harmless grapes...and the ensuing explosion (they were actually grenapes!) destroys Amanita's wheelbarrow. By way of apology, he brings her roses, and when Amanita realizes just how beautifully thorny they are, she decides she must grow them in her garden. So Florian sends seeds...but instead of roses, they sprout noses!
And the noses seem to have allergies (with yucky results).
So off she goes, on her brakeless bicycle, all in a huff, determined to stick the noses in Florian's ears. Unfortunately, she doesn't know the way to Florian's castle. And so, for the first time in her life, Amanita, lost in a dark forest, encounters Danger! Fortunately, she has a bicycle basket full of Noses....
It's a charming, quirky little story, and the pictures add tons of nuance, humor, and charm (bonus cats! Bonus sea serpent topiary! Bonus scorpion stinger pony tale!) There's enough pink to draw in your basic princess lover, and even Amanita's armoured dress is delightful, but the story subverts the standard tropes of the princess genre very nicely.
I also liked the fact that even though Amanita had a rather harrowing time of it, she didn't suddenly switch gears and renounce dangerous things--the story ends with her planting nine of the thorniest rosebushes in her garden.
So all in all, a rather delightful fantasy picture book, one I enjoyed lots!
(disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher)