Written by Kevin O’Malley, Illustrated by Kevin O’Malley, Carol Heyer and Scott Goto
Walker Publishing, 2005
For our library project, we were supposed to tell you our favorite fairy tale, but we couldn’t agree on which story was the best. So we just made one up.
The plot in a nutshell: A boy and girl take a fairy tale in different directions
The girl starts the story by introducing us to her main character, Princess Tenderheart. The princess has eight ponies and her favorite is named Buttercup. A giant steals one of her ponies and the princess sobs. The giant returns night after night and steals more ponies until only Buttercup is left. The princess weeps continuously, refuses to eat and sits in her room, spinning straw into gold. (At this point, the boy takes over the story.) A cool dude on a motorcycle promises to guard Buttercup if he can have all gold thread the princess spins.
The giant returns to the castle to steal the last pony and the cool dude battles him with a giant sword, through lightning, thunder and volcanoes. Princess Tenderheart gives her gold thread to the dude and he gets rich. (The boy says this is the end of the story, but the girl picks it back up.) Princess Tenderheart starts working out and becomes Princess Warrior and she tells the dude to make his own gold thread. (The boy jumps in.) The dude uses his thread to make a blanket of invisibility and he goes to rescue the ponies. The princess goes with him and they scare the giant into jumping from his cliff into the sea. Then the dude and the princess get married and have either a boy or a girl, depending on whose version of the story you’re reading.
The battle between the sexes plays out in picture book form in this book that is considerably funnier than the plot description conveys. What really makes this book work is the artwork, done by three different artists in three completely different styles. Author Kevin O’Malley provides the drawings of our boy and girl narrator, in pen and ink and digital color. They are often superimposed over the artwork for the portion of the story that is happening at the time. The girl’s part of the story is illustrated in acrylics by Carol Heyer, an artist of fantasy books. Scott Goto’s dark palettes, in acrylics and oil on paper, are a perfect fit for the boy’s section of the story. The story font even gets into the act, changing when the narrator changes.
I’ve seen criticism leveled at this book for promoting gender stereotypes in the plots that the boy and girl suggest, but I feel that these readers are taking the book more seriously than the author, who seems to be poking fun at the idea of these stereotypes. In my opinion, the narrative styles, artwork and plot devices all serve to play up the ridiculousness of overly flowery princess and macho tough guy stories. I thought the book was very funny and clever and I feel that its appeal reaches beyond young kids, due to its humorous approach to its subject.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that the best stories are stories that are accessible to all kinds of people and not just geared for one set of readers or another.