Monday, October 4, 2010

REVIEW: The Birthday Ball

Lowry, L.  (2010).  The Birthday Ball.  New York:  Houghton Mifflin Books for Children.

186 pages.

I first heard about this book through some positive reviews from some teachers that I knew.  But the thing was, all the teachers would say was, "The Birthday Ball is fun!" or "The Birthday Ball is cute!"  And that's it.  All of them.  Only those words.  They wouldn't even describe the plot of the book.  Just say that it was cute.

I started to think it was some kind of conspiracy.  Why wouldn't anyone say more?

Having entertained ideas of being an investigative journalist for about three weeks when I was in high school, and then again for another two weeks while in college, I decided the job fell to me to try to understand the silence surrounding the cult of The Birthday Ball.

While I do agree that The Birthday Ball is fun AND cute, I will say more!

Appetizer:  As Princess Patricia Priscilla's sixteenth birthday approaches the castle is preparing for her birthday ball and when she will meet suiters.  The princess isn't nearly as excited about her birthday.  She is bored.  But with the help of a chambermaid, she soon finds a cure for her boredom:  disguising herself as a peasant girl and attending school under the eye of a handsome young teacher.

As her birthday ball approaches, the princesses suitors prepare themselves and gifts for their potential wife.  The Princess is going to have a veeeeeeery difficult decision over who to marry (not that she really wants to get married at all.  Here are her choices:

Who would you choose?
Duke Desmond
Prince Percival
Count Colin AND Count Cuthbert
How about that young, handsome--but stern-looking--schoolmaster in the corner?
Frak them all. Run away!

This book has a vague Shakespearian Twelfth Night feel.  It's kind of a comedy of misuderstandings, with separated siblings, assumptions about people being of noble birth and secret identities.

As I was reading, I was reminded of one of Lowry's other books, The Willoughbys.  Both are kind of set in a time outside our own (but still with references to some modern things).  Both make references to classic children's books and emphasize some excellent vocabulary words.  Also in both books, Lowry did the illustrations herself.

There's a lot to love about this book:  The fact that the princess gets so much joy out of attending school and the fact that those characters who are literate are very excited about their skill.  I like that the story plays with class and that the princess comes to appreciate the peasants.

I think this book would be a great read aloud to do with a young girl.  The humor and alliteration would go over well.  Plus, since the book has a very modern sensibility, this is one princess I wouldn't mind early elementary school girls parading around, pretending to be (she feels driven to help others and learn, but isn't focused on having a prince in her life).  But having said that, this book does put a lot of emphasis on appearances.  While it is done for humor and some of the negatively characterized suitors do find acceptance, the beautiful people do end up with other beautiful people.  Of course.

So, overall, it would seem the cult of the Birthday Ball are right:  "A cute and fun book."

Dinner Conversation:

"When Princess Patricia Priscilla woke on the morning of the day that was five days before her birthday, her first thoughts were not Oh, I am almost another year older, hardly a child anymore! or I wonder what fabulous gifts will be presented to me at the Birthday Ball six nights from now! 
No.  Her thoughts were Bored, bored, bored." (p. 1).

"Below in the village, the new young schoolmaster was preparing his classroom.  He set the little desks in straight rows, looked at the alignment, thought, then shook his head and moved the desks again until they formed a semicircle facing his own larger desk.  He decided that he liked it better that way.
His name was Rafe" (p. 10).

"I'm a poor peasant girl only recently come to live in the village because my mother was killed by a wild boar and my pa has to take in washing."
The princess stood nervously in the doorway of the schoolhouse.  She looked down at her own dirty bare toes, then, because of the silence, back up at the face of the schoolmaster.  His mouth was set in a line and his forehead was furrowed.  He looked very stern, just as Tess, the chambermaid, had described.
The children, each one seated at a small desk, giggled.
I said it wrong, she thought.  "I mean my pa was killed, that's what, and it's my mother that has to take in washing.  I mean my ma."
"And you would like to become a pupil?"
"Yes" (pp. 45, 47).

"My first day as a peasant was the loveliest day I've ever had.  I was not bored for a minute" (p. 55).

Tasty Rating:  !!!

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