BookPage Children’s Top Pick, April 2017
Poor Princess Cora. Her anxious parents are determined to fix all of the things that might be wrong with her. Their solution is to keep her overscheduled. Cue excessive hygiene (three baths a day) with the nanny, studies over dull books with the Queen and intensive exercise sessions with the King.
Cora, who just wants to play, so deeply resents her tightly scheduled life that she writes a letter to her fairy godmother. Wishing for a dog, she ends up with a crocodile, who promises to chew on people Cora doesn’t like. She strikes a deal with the reptile—“I want a day off,” she tells him—and he takes her place, dressing like her and telling her to head out and have fun. The look on Princess Cora’s face here is spectacular, as she’s never once had the opportunity to see what leisure is like.
This ruse works long enough for Cora to get dirty and have a blast outside. The adults back at the castle are too preoccupied (only at first) to notice that Cora’s place has been taken by a crocodile, one who essentially imprisons everyone, simulating Cora’s own daily experiences. On the castle grounds, Cora engages all her senses in moments of exploration and wonder, all the while putting her problem-solving skills to work. Through all this, Princess Cora finds peace. She also rescues herself on her own terms, speaking up in the end for what she wants, having found her courage in her play.
Newbery winner Laura Amy Schlitz, in seven well-paced chapters, has a lot to say about the modern phenomenon of rigorous educational standards and children’s lack of free time for play. As the crocodile wisely asks Cora, what kind of life is one with no trouble? There’s also a lot of humor here: The crocodile’s get-up as a little girl is delightfully absurd, and Brian Floca brings it all to vivid life in his playful illustrations.
Timely and incisive, this one’s a keeper.
Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.