Dendler (Dottie’s Daring Day, 2017, etc.) addresses overcoming preconceptions in this middle-grade fairy tale.
Thirteen-year-old Bianca is known throughout the Kingdom of Pacifico as the Frail and Delicate Princess. She was very weak at birth and has spent her entire life in the castle, kept safe by her loving, overprotective father. Bianca does not feel frail and delicate. She may be cosseted (“Never…was she allowed to meet other children….Who knew what kind of diseases they carried?”), but she has grown into a healthy young girl, brimming with imagination and yearning to explore the world. Yet how can she? She is the Frail and Delicate Princess, and that is all there is to it…until a fire-breathing dragon threatens the kingdom and Bianca’s father and his bravest knights march off to do battle with it. When they don’t return, Bianca sneaks out and embarks on her own quest. With only a charismatic donkey for company, she will track down the dragon. She will save the kingdom and be Frail and Delicate no longer! Dendler writes on the safe side of scary, capturing the magical essence rather than the Grimm aspect of fairy tales. Bianca’s adventure may be straightforward, but it remains spry and charming, its message of empowerment no less effective for being overt. Primary school readers surely will empathize with Bianca (nobody should be chained by assumptions of what they can and cannot do), yet hers is not the only life being affected by pigeonholing. Throughout the story, hidden in plain sight amid the palace folk and fairy-tale tropes and exquisitely characterized animals, Dendler presents a subtler exploration of labeling. It’s to her great credit that the book’s denouement, though obvious in retrospect, comes as both uplifting and unforeseen. Bianca, all told, is a memorable middle-grade heroine.
Runs to surprising depths, and Sammy the donkey will live long in young memory.