24 January 2010
This is a very funny book, with enough over the top characterization and mistaken identity to please Shakespeare. The slightly maniacal illustrations by the great Jules Feiffer heighten the comedic effect of the story, as does the narrator's convivial tone. Buffoonery abounds, from the stone-deaf Queen, who lost her hearing because she was too vain to wear a hat on an extremely cold day; to the incessantly bickering Conjoint Counts who can agree on nothing except toilet humor; to the professional Splashers, who's sole duty is to make waves in bodies of water so that their odious master may never see how ugly he is. The Princess herself is not initially a sympathetic character by virtue of her condescending attitude about "peasants". She is a quick learner, however, and her natural compassion, born as much from a quick mind as a kind heart, breaks through.
Despite the fact that a princess appears on the cover on the book, complete with sparkles and a girl-friendly purple background, boys will find the three dreadful suitors (four, if you count the Conjoint Counts as two) appealing with their nasty habits and unsociable manners. For instance:
"[The Conjoint Counts] had a particular annoying prank that they played on each other. One would wait until his brother's face was turned toward his own, and then belch loudly at it and cry, "Gotcha!"
The belched-at one would invariably respond with a full-scale wedgie."
Wedgies and princesses? In the same book? Hard to resist, especially as a read-aloud.
Just as Princess Patricia Priscilla finds a way to control her fate, so does The Birthday Ball find a way to buck the conventions of the fairy tale. The ingredients are all in place, but Lowry deftly redefines 'Happily Ever After'. This one is a crowd pleaser all round.