Written by Cornelia Funke, Illustrated by Kerstin Meyer
Chicken House, 1997
Drusilla, Rosalinda and Isabella were real princesses. Their beautiful clothes filled thirty walk-in closets.
This castle contains: Three princesses
The three princesses have servants who take care of everything for them. All they have to do is practice their royal behavior and wear their beautiful dresses and ride their ponies. Isabella, the youngest princess, announces that she is bored with her life and that what she wants is to do things herself. She throws her crown into the goldfish pond and hides under the bed when the servants come to dress her. The king, upset with her behavior, tells her to go retrieve her crown from the fishpond. She refuses and the king punishes her by sending her to the kitchen to wash dishes, peel onions and clean the oven. She enjoys her work in the kitchen and stays for three days. The king asks again and she refuses again, so he sends her to the pigsty to feed the pigs and clean the sty. After three days, he sends for her and she tells him she enjoys it so much she’d like to keep working there. The king goes and gets her crown from the fishpond and returns it to Isabella, telling her that she looks dirty, but happy. They strike an agreement that she will wear it and be a princess when she needs to, but that she can get dirty and do the things that make her happy, too.
Author Cornelia Funke, who is best known for her Inkheart and MirrorWorld book series, gives us a wonderful princess character who goes utterly against the mold. But Ms. Funke makes Isabella so interesting by making her more than just another princess rebelling against the over-structured royal life. She’s bored because her life isn’t interesting and doesn’t allow her the freedom to explore the things that interest her or learn more about the day to day life of other people in the castle. I love that the king comes to understand Isabella and even, at the end of the book, asks her to teach him some of the things she’s learned. That’s a really cool way to show how her actions have made an impact on him in a positive way.
Illustrator Kerstin Meyer collaborated with Ms. Funke on four picture books and this was the last of them. Her art style is fun and comical, reminding me a lot of Jack Kent, who has long been a favorite of mine. One thing she definitely captures perfectly is the joy that Isabella is taking in her menial tasks, cleaning and doing food prep in the kitchen and sweeping out the pigsty. The other servants doing the same type of work are also shown, working alongside the princess, and this adds a lot to the story, in my opinion. I imagine that this situation would have been a learning experience for the servants as well as for the princess. Isabella makes a well rounded role model for any girl who goes against the expectations of others.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that a good life comes from finding the balance of what you’re expected to do and what you like to do.