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The Barefoot Book of Princesses Review by Tammy Walker

Retold by Richard Walker
Illustrated by Olywyn Whelan
Barefoot Books
2067 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02140

I just cannot get enough of Barefoot Books. They almost always become well-loved companions in my home and schoolroom. This "princess" book is no exception. Keeping with the Barefoot mode, this compilation pulls tales from cultures around the world. This particular compilation focuses on stories about princesses and the difficult circumstances in which they find themselves.

The first story is a well-known Danish tale, "The Princess and the Pea." In search of his heart's true love, the prince is looking for a true princess, not one that is too thin or too fat, not with too many dogs, or not even too beautiful. When a very wet princess comes to his castle, dripping from being out in the rain, he secretly hopes she is a real princess. So he secretly places a pea under her 20 very comfortable mattresses. When she awakes in the morning and honestly but graciously speaks of her bruises from the pea, the queen and her son know she is a true princess. The prince and princess are, of course, married instantly!

"The Mountain Princess" is a Persian tale of an extremely beautiful and clever princess who grows tired of the unworthy suitors that continually crowd her palace, sighing with love. She convinces her father to build her a home on a mountain where she can escape the entourage and have some peace. She sets up intricate means to trap and kill unsuitable suitors, until one, as clever as herself, is able to woo her and win her heart.

"The Princess Who Lost Her Hair" is an African tale of a vain and selfish princess who is known for her beautiful locks. When an ugly bird flies into her room and asks for a few strands of her angelic hair to build a nest, she rudely refuses. The bird promises to repay by causing her hair to fall out. When the promise is realized, her father calls for all the magicians in the kingdom to help, but none are able. The only one able to help the princess is, of course, a handsome man who discovers a hair tree. When he causes the princess's hair to return, the two are married.

"The Birdcage Husband" is a tale taken from central Asia. In this strange tale, a young maiden swears to marry a bird if he will help her to find her lost cow. The bird retrieves the cow, and the princess and he live together as husbandish and wife. The princess discovers that the bird is really a handsome prince under a spell. She soon gets herself and her prince in trouble by throwing his cage into a fire (thinking that this will free him from returning to his bird shape). Now his soul is lost until she can properly pay penance and "save his soul." When she is able to jump through the proper hoops, her husband, in fully human form, returns to her.

"The Beggar Princess" is a Chinese tale with a bit of wisdom within. A smart, ambitious man whose marital prospects are not very good seeks to marry a wealthy wife. He finds a king who is willing to marry his daughter to him because the king is unable to find anyone else who will marry her because of his status as a beggar king. (He protects the beggars of the city.) This suits the young man for a while; but being a social climber, he later finds himself embarrassed being married to "the beggar king's" daughter. He decides to throw her in the river so that he can start afresh. Twists of "fate" finally give this young man just what he deserves in the end, or maybe more than he deserves when his original wife is returned to him.

"The Horned Snake's Wife" is an Iroquois tale of a Chief's daughter who can find no warrior from her tribe suitable for marriage. Finding fault with all the ordinary men of her tribe, she is enthralled by a handsome visitor with a melodious voice. She decides to marry him, finding out just before they are married that he is actually a snake. She, fortunately, is able to get out of his snares with the help of a spiritual ancestor. Learning her lesson, she gladly goes back and marries a common but admirable warrior.

"The Sleeping Beauty" is the often told tale by the Grimm brothers. A beautiful princess falls into a deep sleep after pricking her finger, only to be released by true love's kiss.

Those who enjoy fairy tales in their homes will love these stories. We have enjoyed them in the car on long drives (with the accompanying CD) and at night as the children are going to sleep. The illustrations are whimsical and colorful, full of delightful detail. I find this an enjoyable means of entertainment for our family.

Product review by Tammy Walker, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, April 2008