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To Be a Princess

by Hugh Brewster and Laurie Coulter, Laurie McGaw, illus.

Two books this season, both for readers aged eight to 12, explore the lives of young royalty throughout history, illustrating in the process that princes’ and princesses’ lives are not the fairy-tales they may seem. Growing Up Royal, by Jane Billinghurst (Hey Girl! A Journal of My Life), focuses on Britain’s royal family, though it also includes tidbits about and pocket histories of royalty across Europe. The book begins with the idea that the reader wants to join a royal family, a gimmicky premise that quickly wears thin. Billinghurst packs her text with information about the childhood and adolescent years of Britain’s kings, queens, and their families, and devotes much space to current heartthrobs Princes William and Harry. In her peeks “behind-the-scenes,” Billinghurst reveals many amusing and illuminating regal vignettes, and she supplements these stories with colour photographs and cheeky sidebars that discuss specific aspects of the royal upbringing, including servants, pets, fashion, and career choices. Occasionally Billinghurst is over-zealous in her fact-gathering, overwhelming her audience with tedious detail, and drifting from her focus on the growing-up years. However, children, especially girls, who are mad about royalty will find much here to whet their appetites.
While Growing Up Royal delivers comprehensive detail on one royal family, To Be a Princess focuses on the stories of a dozen princesses from the 16th century to the present day, including the lesser-known royalty of Hawaii and India, as well as of Russia, France, and Britain. To Be a Princess is a beautiful book to look at, illustrated with the fine paintings of Laurie McGaw (Something to Remember Me By), and is a very readable text that will appeal to young girls eight and older, though it could be read aloud to younger children. The book also would work well as a companion to Scholastic’s highly successful Royal Diaries series, which has already chronicled several of the same princesses for a slightly older reading audience.
Hugh Brewster and Laurie Coulter, who last collaborated on 882 1³2 Amazing Answers to Your Questions about the Titanic, combine imagined dialogue, quotations from letters and diaries, historical information, photographs, and artifacts into brief narratives that chronicle the rise, and often the fall, of these 12 princesses. The stories of Elizabeth I, Victoria, and Marie Antoinette are followed by timelines that place the princesses’ lives alongside the main events of their eras; the lack of such contextualizing for the other less-influential princesses is the book’s one unfortunate omission. With half the number of pages of Growing Up Royal, To Be a Princess is not an in-depth study of any of the young women, but it still imparts a great deal of historical detail while revealing how the lives of these often-reluctant rulers were anything but glamorous and magical. The fact that several of these princesses were imprisoned, even killed, because of their royal blood will be a sobering lesson for young readers.
Both texts include indexes and bibliographies, making them useful for research as well as pleasure reading. Billinghurst adds a list of available books on royalty, though she doesn’t indicate if these books are meant for children; she also recommends some useful web sites. Royalty watchers wanting a lighthearted immersion in the minutiae of the British royal family will savour Growing Up Royal. Recommend To Be a Princess to thoughtful readers curious about the role of girls in royal families around the world.