It would be easy to assume, based on this book’s title, that it is nothing more than another bit of inconsequential fluff designed to sate the bottomless appetites of six-year-old girls for all things princess-ified and ponyish. But The Princess and the Pony is the work of Kate Beaton, the brilliant, wryly insightful comics artist behind the web comic Hark! A Vagrant (collected in two volumes published by Drawn & Quarterly), and in her capable hands the princess story is elevated to new levels of complexity, joy, and pure hilarity.
Princess Pinecone is a warrior. She is also a young girl, and, like most young girls (and maybe a few warriors), she really wants a pony for her birthday. And she gets one. But the animal is no sinewy royal stallion; it is a chubby, dazed, inept-looking thing that appears to be the product of a night of passion between an oversized guinea pig and a Falabella miniature horse. Pinecone is determined to work with what she has, however, and enters a great battle with her wall-eyed steed (who turns out to be quite the peacemaker).
Beaton’s comics style is uproarious, with the quick movement of Quentin Blake, the punchline timing of Gary Larson, and the vintage feel of Hergé. While the star of the story is certainly the pony, whose protruding tongue and persistent farting steal the show, Pinecone is equally loveable for her strength, patience, and courage.
Innumerable small, intelligent details make this an effortlessly inclusive picture book: Pinecone is the daughter of a white, blonde-haired, blue-eyed dad and a dark-haired, dark-skinned mom; posters of strong female warriors like “Fierce Fran” cover her bedroom walls; and warriors of all shapes, sizes, colours, and ages are involved in the great battle. What’s more, Beaton creates a world of warfare free from any real violence – the only weapons used are spitballs, hairballs, and menace-free coloured sticks that appear to be pool noodles.
There are many ways to express how stupendous this book is (a star, two hooves up, 5/5 pony farts), but only one thing to say about Kate Beaton: now that she has entered the world of picture books, the kidlit crown is hers for the taking.