This is the second post in my Precocious Princesses series, reviews of inspiring alternatives to traditional princess fairy tales.

The Apple-Pip Princess

by Jane Ray

Candlewick Press, 2007

32 pages

Inspiration is a funny thing.

It’s hard to come by, but highly contagious.  It has an inexorable power but works according to the choices of those who use it.

And just one spark of it can transform an ordinary person into a leader who changes lives, whole societies, even the world.

That’s the lesson learned by Princess Serenity in Jane Ray’s The Apple-Pip Princess.

Serenity is a princess in a nameless, blighted kingdom.  Once green and prosperous, her world has descended into drought and crippling poverty since her mother’s death.

Now her father is approaching the end of his life, and he gives Serenity and her two older sisters a test to determine which of them will succeed him as ruler: each girl gets a week to “make her mark,” to do something that makes him proud.

The older sisters, superficial and vain, build two tall towers to impress the king.  They use materials stripped from their impoverished subjects’ homes and imprison anyone who objects.

Serenity, meanwhile, retreats to a favorite place and pores over her inheritance from her mother: a simple wooden box containing natural treasures collected by the queen in childhood.

And, slowly, inspiration comes.  As Ray puts it, “the tiny seed of an amazing idea began to form in her mind.”

Using the queen’s treasures and the seeds from her breakfast fruit, Serenity plants and nourishes the first seedling trees her homeland has seen in years.

After five days of this work, she notices a village boy watching her.  She invites him to join her, and soon villagers everywhere are helping to plant groves and groves of trees.

The end result is the restoration of nature, prosperity, and fellowship throughout the kingdom–and, of course, the king’s choice of Serenity as his heir.

It’s a welcome change from the passive princess who waits for someone else to come along and rescue her.  Serenity actively reaches out for inspiration and does the back-breaking work of bringing it to fruition.

In the process, she saves not just herself but the entire kingdom.

There is so much here to inspire: Serenity’s simple faith in her mother’s legacy, her compassionate inclusion of the suffering villagers, and the multiplication of the princess’s heartfelt efforts.

Even better, Ray has managed to write a fable that is poetic but never trite.  The voice is familiar, warm, reverent.  The book teaches valuable lessons but never preaches.

And the storyline is intriguing–the first time I read the book, I kept wondering what would happen next.

What was Serenity going to do with the items in the box?  Would her plan actually work?  Would the king appreciate the outcome?

I love, too, that Ray (who is English) chose not to create yet another Renaissance-style, Anglo-Saxon princess.

Although the story’s setting is undefined, Ray’s paintings are reminiscent of Indian story-tapestries blended with Moroccan elements.

Every character is brown-skinned and dark-eyed; some wear yarmulke-style caps, others sport dreadlocks or close white curls.

And Ray makes a point that Serenity, although somewhat pretty, is “little and shy and quite ordinary.”

Inspiration, in other words, is no respecter of persons.

Whether you’re light-skinned or dark, young or old, dirt-poor or a privileged princess, you can find the spark that turns you into a leader–and make the choices that turn your leadership into something that inspires others.

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