Unlocking the Spell: A Tale of the Wide-Awake Princess, Book 2

Book review by
Tracy Moore, Common Sense Media
Unlocking the Spell: A Tale of the Wide-Awake Princess, Book 2 Book Poster Image
Second in alt princess series sparkles with wit, girl power.

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Unlocking the Spell offers positive messages about resourcefulness, developing skills, seeing people for who they are rather than how they appear, and valuing character over more superficial attributes, particularly in girls and young women.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Although many characters are either good or bad, we follow several well-developed main characters who make every effort to be genuine and have integrity, to help others, to trust others, to honor a sense of community, to fix their mistakes, and to understand the motives of others. Main character Princess Annie is an especially positive role model for young girls as she navigates a world where women are valued primarily for their looks. She's had to come to terms with her more ordinary attributes and has done so with a marvelous self-confidence in who she is and what her skills are rather than her ability to turn heads. Moreover, she exhibits these traits with humility and kindness and only the occasional grumbling.

Violence

Very minor peril and/or creepiness throughout the book. In many scenes, characters are pursued or followed by hidden creatures. In some, magic changes people into animals, or witches are revealed to be nasty. In others, ogres have tongues split, or characters battle kelpies with swords to avoid their own demise.

Sex

Minor plot involves Annie's desire to be kissed by Liam, and in some scenes they hold hands or flirt. In one scene, a man and woman kiss "thoroughly." Much also is made of the attention-grabbing beauty of several princesses. 

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some poisons are used as magic to harm others.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Unlocking the Spell is the second book in the Wide-Awake Princess series, a continuation in the alternative fairy tale saga with a focus on skill building, kindness, and autonomy rather than being the fairest of them all. Though much is made of the beauty of princesses, and some even use their looks to gain entrance or power over others, the book asks readers to consider the experience of such female characters as compared to those valued for other traits. 

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What's the story?

Princess Annie may have saved the day by finding her sister Gwendolyn's true love, Prince Beldegard, but now she must help him turn back from a bear into a prince so the two can marry. The trouble is, they have to track down a nasty old dwarf who cast the spell, and he hasn't been seen around these parts in weeks. Once again, Annie must travel far and wide and keep her wits about her to break the curse or else help Gwennie fend off suitors for the rest of her life.

Is it any good?

In this second book in the series, Princess Annie again takes the lead to keep challenging assumptions about gender, beauty, and love, while clever side plots feature old fairy and folk tales. The book is especially clever in working through the pros and cons of being born beautiful (or being helped to become beautiful) versus living in the world as an ordinary person who must work at skill building. In the end, readers will see it's not necessarily better to be blessed with good looks; beauty isn't exactly an easy ride, either. 

Also instructive are the book's romantic relationships, which feature respect, admiration, healthy boundaries, and innocence while warning of the troubles of getting swept away. Though Unlocking the Spell must reinforce some stereotypes to challenge them -- sister Gwendolyn uses a flash of hair and a glowing smile in a pinch to get her way -- readers are encouraged to consider the limitations of such traits. They should come away with a much more nuanced understanding of a variety of experiences girls may inhabit in the world and root for the level-headed, kind girl at the center of the action.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Unlocking the Spell treats beauty. Is it an asset or a liability? How so? 

  • How does Unlocking the Spell handle stereotypes about gender, such as girls being beautiful and boys being useful? How does Annie challenge those notions? Is it a good or a bad thing in the book?

  • What message does Unlocking the Spell send about true love? Is it the possibility of love at first sight, that love is a sensible business arrangement, or that it comes from really getting to know someone over a long period of time? How are different characters in love, and what does it say about their relationships?

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