The Very Smart Pea and the Princess-to-be
by Mini Grey
According to her jacket-flap biography,
Mini Grey was given her name after being born in a Mini Cooper
in a parking lot in Wales. Among her hobbies are welding and
playing the accordion. You'd expect a very funny, very silly
book from an author/artist like this, and that's what you
get in The Very Smart Pea and the Princess-to-be.
Like John Scieszka's The
True Story of the Three Little Pigs by A. Wolf, this
book tells a traditional fairy tale from an unexpected point
of view. Most unexpected, in fact: who would imagine that
a pea - a pea! - could make a convincing and lively main character.
But so he - she – it - does, in spite of being a small
green sphere with only two thoughtful eyes for features.
The front matter doesn't identify the medium,
but the illustrations look like watercolor and gouache. Many
of the spreads are broken up into smaller frames, either snapshots
scattered on a table, pictures on a wall or a spread of Polaroids
of unsuitable Princesses (too scruffy! Too tidy! Too grumpy!
Too pink! Strange pets!). The more traditional spreads are
often dramatic views from the ceiling or foreshortened views,
like the semi-titular heroine arriving in a thunderstorm,
with lightning entering along with her.
The Queen bears a strong resemblance to
Her Majesty Elizabeth II of England, with her hair in curlers
under a kerchief and little pea-like eyes. The Prince rather
looks like HRH Prince William, tending towards backpacking
and eco-tourism. The illustrations are heavily outlined in
sepia and black, and the color has a painterly, luscious feel,
intense without being garish. A bowl full of peas looks good
enough to eat, and the mattresses look like a pile of hamburgers
and fried eggs, limes and olives. (The pea complains, "I
spent most nights in the darkness under a pile of twenty mattresses
and feather beds and a princess.")
The writing is as funny and snappy as the
above sentence. The gardening theme seen throughout, which
we think has to do with the nature of the narrator, has a
surprising twist at the end for a satisfying payoff. Every
illustration is full of interesting details; it takes more
than one reading to see all the layers.
This is Mini Grey's first book published
in the U.S.; she is also the author/artist of Egg Drop,
which I hope to be able to find soon. The Very Smart Pea
is a very funny book! - S.B.