by Melanie Heuiser Hill
My twelve-year-old daughter is inhaling books these days — a stack at a time out of the library, every bookshelf in the house pillaged, major insider trading at school, etc. There’s no way I can keep up, but when I move a book from here to there I often flip through or ask her opinion. When she started reading Princess of the Midnight Ball, I assumed, based on the PBS Masterpiece Theater-like attire on the cover’s princess, that it was “just-another-princess book.” I didn’t even ask about it — I’m not a huge princess book fan and she reads whole series of them.
And then, while I was chopping vegetables for dinner one afternoon, she looked up from the book and said, “You should read this, Mom.”
Now, she doesn’t say this about every book. She’s happy to tell me the plot, critique the writing, acknowledge when she’s reading what we sometimes call M&M literature (i.e., junk), and admit that a deep dark chocolate book is usually more satisfying, even as the M&M books can be fun. We love to talk books together, but we only recommend the really good ones to each other.
I said, “Is it an M&M princess story?”
“Nope.” She giggled and turned the page.
“Plot summary?” I inquired.
“Grimm Brothers’ Twelve Dancing Princesses,” she said, not lifting her eyes from the page.
Okay, maybe more intriguing. I drizzled olive oil over the potatoes.
“Who’s the author?”
“Jessica Day George,” she said.
The name somersaulted through my brain. Why did I know that name?
Aha! Not the usual princess books!
“Tell me more,” I said, and I started chopping broccoli.
“Well, the princesses are all named for flowers — and they’re this great family and there’s the thing about how they’re dancing holes into their slippers every night and no one can figure out what’s going on…. The guys who arrive to “save” them are such idiots.” She rolled her eyes. “But the one who’s going to save them…he knits.”
A knitting hero? Well, there’s something you don’t see every day.
“Knits casually or as a plot point?” I’m not sure how knitting can be a plot point, but I hold out hope.
“I think it’s going to be a plot point….” she said in her most beguiling way. Dancing green eyes peered at me over the top of the book’s pages.
“Interesting,” I said, ever so casually.
“I’ll be done before supper,” she said. “Then you can have it.”
It’s terrific. Knitting is indeed a plot point. Knitting patterns are included at the end of the book, even! Jessica Day George’s website explains — she’s a knitter. And she loves men who knit.
Set in nineteenth century Europe (which explains the book cover — totally appropriate), this fresh retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses is full of humor, interesting characters, and fun twists and turns of plot. The princesses are smart, creative and feisty; the hero a dashing, sensitive, knitting gardener. (Be still my own princess heart.)
This book is a romp and delight. I didn’t read it quite as fast as my daughter, but almost. I look forward to the other two in the series — I have it on good authority that they are equally wonderful — and Ms. George hints on her website that there could be more.