A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Shannon Hale's Newbery Honor book Princess Academy is a moving fantasy about girls who are ordered to leave their families to train for a year to become suitable for the local prince, who aims to marry a girl from their village. There are some intense scenes where girls are held hostage by bandits, threatened with violence or death. Some injury and death occurs. Loss looms large in the story; several of the girls have lost parents in accidents or their mothers in childbirth. These elements offer a sometimes bleak setting for what is an otherwise tremendous coming-of-age story that transcends the princess genre in its understanding of family, gender, thirst for knowledge, and sense of community.
What's the story?
Miri and her family and community are happy with their lives on Mount Eskel harvesting quarry. But then word arrives that the king's priests have seen the future bride of their prince, and she hails from Mount Eskel. All girls age 12 to 18 are ordered to attend the nearby academy, where they'll transform from commoners into ladies and prepare for a possible life as a princess -- and compete to be chosen by the prince himself. As they separate from their families and begin to learn to read, curtsy, and converse like royalty, Miri and the girls must face life away from their families for the first time, enduring competition among themselves, cruelty from the academy mistress, and figuring out whether it's all worth taking the hand of a boy they've never even met.
Is it any good?
PRINCESS ACADEMY excels at blending the elements of a simple princess story with larger, more complicated truths about the world. What begins as a story about a town of girls training to one day be princesses, with the plucky and thoughtful Miri at the center, unfolds as a tale about community and friendship, as well as the power of education to transform communities and the power of confidence to help women reach their full potential. Along the way, there are subtle messages about the dangers of prejudice, the importance of being open-minded, and how fairness and respect are essential to good governance.
But mostly this is just a well-conceived adventure about leaving home, growing up, learning about the world, and returning to make your community better. For young girls interested in princess themes, it may be hard to return to lighter fare when presented with such compelling and complex storytelling that weaves together so many characters and concerns. It's hard to imagine a better use of the genre.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Princess Academy transcends the princess genre. How do Miri and the girls shift their thinking from about what the prince can do for them and their families to what they can do for their communities?
Why do princess stories remain so popular, even with modern readers?
How does Princess Academy portray education in the lives of these girls? Does learning ever feel to you the way it does to Miri?
- Author: Shannon Hale
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and fantasy, Princesses and fairies, Adventures, Brothers and sisters, Friendship, Great girl role models, High school, Misfits and underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
- Publication date: January 29, 2006
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 10 - 14
- Number of pages: 250
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Award: Newbery Medal and Honors
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