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Monday, January 5, 2015

The Princess in Black, written by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale, and illustrated by LeUyen Pham. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2014. $14.99 ages 6 and up

"The duchess peeked under a table. Not so much as a wad of gum! Was Princess Magnolia as perfect as she seemed? No, surely everyone had secrets. Duchess Wigtower would find something amiss. The duchess left Princess Magnolia's tower room. She poked around the throne room. She examined the ballroom. She explored the kitchen. She even paused to inspect the cookies."

Magnolia seems to be a perfect young girl. She had better be! You see, Magnolia is a Princess, and great things are expected of princesses. All the time. Every day in every way. The only untoward thing that might ruin that ideal reputation is that she has a secret. It's a big secret, too.

Princess Magnolia is also known as the Princess in Black, and she is a superhero. In her disguise, she protects the kingdom. As happens when you are a princess, there are at times unexpected visitors. Duchess Wingtower is prone to dropping in, and to being very, very nosy! As they tour the castle, Magnolia uses all her wiles to keep the Duchess from making any discoveries concerning her alter ego. Then, when her secret alarm goes off, Magnolia has no recourse but to leave the castle. She is needed, and she must be there.

What all that means is that the Duchess is free to do all the snooping that she sees fit, and Magnolia must leave her to it! She makes a quick change to the Princess in Black regalia, saddles her faithful companion Blacky (aka known as Frimplepants the Unicorn) and heads off to provide protection for Duff, a young goat herder. He is being bullied by a monster bent on a goat dinner. Magnolia tries to reason with the monster; he is having none of it. A fight ensues. With her special moves and LeUyen Pham's engaging artwork, readers will be fascinated to watch the rather comical encounter.

Something else is taking place as the conflict escalates. Duff begins to notice some similarities between this Princess and Princess Magnolia. He quickly dismisses any such thoughts. In the meantime, the Duchess is nosily poking through all of Magnolia's rooms, closets and belongings. Nothing much alerts her to any misdoings ... noting that the black stockings she finds are simply dirty. She knows that real princesses don't wear black!

Lots of action, gentle humor, wonderful artwork worthy of close attention, and a secret. What more can we ask from a pleasing and sure to be popular early years novel? Oh, and there is a hint that a new hero may be on the horizon. Let's keep our fingers crossed!

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