Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invicible, a most unusal Sleeping Beauty re-imagining by Ursula Vernon
I find the word "hamster" rather endearing. I find the idea of a hamster princess who wants to go forth and have adventures likewise endearing. And though I think Ursula Vernon is slightly better at drawing charming newts and dragons (as in her Dragonbreath books) than she is at drawing hamsters, she still draws appealing ones. So I was primed to enjoy Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible (Dial, August 2015) very much, and I did.
Princess Harriet is ten when she learns that she is cursed to prick herself on a hamster wheel when she turns twelve, at which point she will fall into a deep sleep, from which the kiss of prince will awaken her. Her parents have thoughtfully installed a resident, and suitable, prince, so that their daughter won't be kissed awake by a stranger. Harriet does not react with typical princessly droopy-ness to the news of the curse, nor is she much interested in the prince. What thrills her is the news that since she's fated to be around at the age of 12, until then she is invincible! (although it seems to me that she could still be injured fairly badly and still be alive enough to be cursed at 12.....)
First she jumps off the highest tower of the castle, then off she goes on her faithful riding quail Mumfrey (who adds tons of cute) to battle monsters, sometimes saving people from dragons, sometimes saving dragons from princesses. But she comes home for her birthday...and confronts the evil fairy who cursed her, inadvertently managing to turn the curse back on the fairy, who then falls into the enchanted sleep...along with everyone else in Harriet's castle! Including the prince.
So clearly Harriet's next quest is to find a prince willing to wake everyone up with kisses...and then she can figure out how to deal with the fairy once and for all!
It's a tremendously enjoyable subversion of passive princess tropes, and the lovely absurdity of the animal characters is tremendously charming! Though the language and vocabulary are somewhat more sophisticated than one would expect from a first chapter book for emergent readers, it is graphic heavy, making it very friendly indeed for uncertain readers in 2nd and 3rd grades in particular, or strong young 1st grade readers, or older elementary school kids, and even middle school ones, who like cute funny books, or grown ups who like saying the word "hamster." I enjoyed it lots. And I think it's a great princess book to give to little boys so that they can get it into their heads that princess books can have broad appeal.
This broad appeal has created a bit of a dilemma for me--Harriet has been nominated for the Cybils as an Early Chapter Book (this is where the Dragonbreath books mostly ended up too). I think it would be happy in that category, but I think it would also be happy as an Elementary/middle grade nominee (the category I'm the organizer for). Elementary includes eight year olds, who will love it...I shall have to confer with the Early Chapter book chair, and look deep into the depths of my own mind to make sure I'm not wanting it just because I like it so much.
You can follow the link above to see all the Cybils nominees thus far, and perhaps nominate your own!