WHO WANTS TO BE A PRINCESS? A Picture-Book View of Medieval Life

Lynn: We try to be honest here at Bookends, but I’m still embarrassed to admit that I wasn’t as impartial as I should have been when I first saw Bridget Heos’ Who Wants to Be a Princess?: What It Was Really Like to Be a Medieval Princess (2017). In my defense, I was unloading a box of books when I saw the word “princess” and brightly dressed characters and I, well, I admit it: I judged the book by its cover. I assessed it as something sweet, cute, pop culture, and short on substance. Girl, was I wrong!Who Wants to Be a Princess? What It Was Really Like to Be a Medieval Princess by Bridget Heos

My well-deserved penance is to give this book the praise it deserves. Sure, it’s cute, particularly Migy’s colorful illustrations, but it is far more than just that. Heos provides a funny but more accurate reality check for all those sparkle-laden little girls dreaming of being Cinderella. She presents each fairy tale idea alongside an opposing fact: instead of daily wearing beautiful gowns, princesses usually wear itchy wool. Cupcakes for dessert each day? Nope! Think smelly aged cheese.  Fairytale castle for a home? Think again. The reality was plain, cold, drafty, and surrounded by a moat, which was really “potty water and garbage!”

The clever structure and humorous text give modern-day princesses a good look at what medieval life was like, even for royalty. Readers won’t forget the fun lessons learned here.

Cindy: I’m with Lynn. I might have passed this by myself, given that half of the books I see today have cover art that looks like it was designed by a moonlighting motion picture animator—middle-grade novels are the worst right now. I’m thankful that Lynn poked her smelly aged cheese-loving nose into this one. Young Cinderellas and Elsas who aren’t ready to give up their Halloween costumes just yet will be set straight about the harsh realities of castle life, with no palaces in sight, just a collection of small shops and buildings within castle walls to protect against invading enemies.

The text and art playfully make reference to many classic fairy tales, like the multi-mattressed bed from The Princess and the Pea, Snow White and her avian sartorial assistants, and the Four and Twenty Blackbirds baked in a pie. Migy has great fun with his illustrations: a mix of ink, paint, and digital techniques. (He visited European castles to research his art). An author’s note and a bibliography (of mostly kid-friendly resources) will help young princes and princesses to find out more about medieval life. Huzzah!

About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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