Written and Illustrated by Kate Beaton
Arthur A Levine Books, 2015
In a kingdom of warriors, the smallest warrior was Princess Pinecone.
The plot in a nutshell: A warrior princess has to deal with an adorable pony.
Warriors typically get battle gear as gifts for their birthdays, but Princess Pinecone usually gets sweaters. She lets her parents know that what she really wants is a fast, strong horse, but they wind up giving her an adorable fat little pony. She starts to protest that she can’t possibly ride him into battle, but you can’t really turn down a gift so she just tries to get used to him. With a big battle looming on the schedule, she tries to teach the pony how to be mighty, but he doesn’t really get it. On the day of the battle, she tells him to do his best. The battle begins and there are dodgeballs, spitballs and hairballs flying in all directions. Princess Pinecone looks for a way to join the fray and then she sees Otto the Awful (the fiercest warrior ever) running right for her. She braces for battle, but when he reaches her, he bends down to coo over her adorable pony. The battle stops, as other warriors come over to fuss over him. Princess Pinecone is confused, but Otto explains that warriors don’t often get a chance to appreciate cute things because they have to be tough all the time. So Pinecone shares her stock of cute sweaters with everyone and they vote her and the pony Most Valuable Warriors. Pinecone hugs her pony and declares him the best a warrior could want.
I went online to see what I could find out about author/illustrator Kate Beaton and Google lead me to her web comic, Hark! A Vagrant and I just couldn’t stop reading. Her comics riff on everything from the founding fathers to Batman, incorporating history and literature with a little pop culture on the side. That same acerbic wit and intelligence is on full display in this, her first picture book and there are lots of reasons to recommend it. For one thing, Princess Pinecone is a fantastic female character, with loving parents, a strong and self-sufficient attitude and a firm sense of her own self.
There is a lot of diversity in the book, including her mixed race parents and a wide variety of male and female warriors in the battle scenes. I was completely surprised by the book’s spin on a feminist moral, by taking female strength as a given (yay!) and surprising us instead by showing us the cuddly side of warriors, both male and female. Strength and softness can go hand in hand and people don’t have to be either one or the other. Plus, there is no way to resist that adorable fat pony, who made his first appearance in the web comic and is available on the website in a plush version.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that if princesses can also be tough and strong, warriors can also be soft and cuddly.