The Duchess of Whimsy

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
The Duchess of Whimsy Book Poster Image
Spirited, funny tale of an unlikely friendship.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value
Positive Messages

The lesson here is that appearances can be deceiving: The earl proves to be much more engaging than expected, and for all her antics the duchess has some depth. It’s a nice alternative to conventional princess stories.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The Earl of Norm is patient, persistent, and ultimately true to himself. The Duchess of Whimsy, once she gives the earl half a chance, is open-minded and friendly to her suitor.

Violence & Scariness

What parents need to know

Parents need to know the vocabulary in this well-written fairy tale will challenge -- and very possibly put off -- younger readers.

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What's the story?

The Duchess of Whimsy is the life of the party, but her admirer, the Earl of Norm, is far too ordinary to attract her interest. He goes to great lengths, presenting clumsy poetry and borrowing ill-suited clothes, but nothing works. Until one day, when the cook falls ill and the duchess’ guests scramble to prepare an exotic feast, and the earl’s humble, sensible grilled cheese sandwich draws her attention. The two share the sandwich and find they have much more than tastes in common once they finally start talking.

Is it any good?

Randall and Peter de Seve have dished up a charming story that teaches a valuable lesson with a considerable dose of humor and joy. Randall de Seve brings together her odd couple with a sparkling story that evokes both princess fantasies and the grade-school cafeteria social order. The exuberant artwork by Peter de Seve -- well-known for his New Yorker covers, among other work -- are crammed with funny details that will entrance kids.

Like the duchess herself, everything about this book is lavish and extravagant, from the expressive illustrations to the lyrical, elegant language. The latter, however, may put off some younger kids. The first readings will very likely require frequent interruptions to define unfamiliar words: The first few pages alone toss out soirees, attire, rutted, manor, apparel, and joie de vivre. Patient kids who enjoy wordplay will stick with it and feel rewarded, but less eager readers may give up.

Beautiful, funny, and, yes, whimsical illustrations add magic to a fairy tale courtship.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about making friends. Why isn’t the duchess interested in getting to know the earl at first? Why do his attempts to impress her fail?

  • Have you ever changed your mind about someone you didn’t think you wanted for a friend?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fairy tales and humor

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