The first adventures of Princess Peony by Nette Hilton

cover image

Ill. by Lucinda Gifford. Walker Books, 2018. ISBN: 9781760650445.
(Age: 5+) Highly recommended. Themes: Castles, Play, Princesses and Princes, Imagination, Getting along. Peony (a princess) lives in a castle with a courtyard guarded by her dragon (Totts, her dog). Her brother, Prince Morgan, is a troll, who likes to undermine her games in the garden, and declares that they must build a trap for the bears. Princess Peony who likes to be obeyed, does not like the idea of bears coming into the garden. She helps him build the trap but becomes trapped herself. The troll refuses to set her free, only agreeing when she promises him her dragon. But first he must take the dog four times around the courtyard, something he seems eager to do, but the dog is so fast he calls a halt. Exhausted, he agrees to let the princess out of the trap, and together they make traps to catch any bears that may wander from the nearby zoo.
This delightful story about siblings getting along, although with a few hiccups along the way, will entrance younger readers marvelling at their imaginative use of the garden and its surrounds to build a fantasy world. Peony and her brother, Morgan, are single minded about what they want but eventually come together to create a world that suits both of them. Hilton's writing is always subtle and understated, ensuring the readers use their own imaginations to explore what they might do in a similar situation.
The clear uncluttered prose set against white space is easy to read, and words highlighted in childish handwriting will ensure these are taken note of and practised. The reduced colour range used for the illustrations makes for an uncluttered look to each page, and the readers will laugh as they notice the difference between the text and the images, underlining the rich imaginative world of the children, and reinforcing their ability to use things in the garden to create their world. A delightful tale set outside, encouraging readers to look past their screens.
Fran Knight