The Princess and the Pony

I never do this, but before we begin, here’s two notes: (a) I have been working on getting permissions to post images for various posts.  If you scroll down, for example, you’ll see some images from The Fox and the Star (thank you, Coralie Bickford-Smith!).  Do go look: they’re lovely.  Thanks are also due to Kate Beaton for giving me permission to use images from her website today.  (b)  On Sunday, I’m going to go to Catherynne Valente‘s signing at the Brookline Booksmith where I will try not to embarrass myself.  I will then gobble up the book, probably weep because it’s over, and then try to compose my thoughts about the whole Fairyland series into a blog post.  (That might take a while.)  If you are near any of the locations on her tour, may I suggest stopping by?  Her books are wonderful.

Do you know what?  That paragraph serves as a pretty good introduction to my confession: I am such a fangirl.  I pretend not to be.  I’m not much of a one for movies or actors or anime or any of the things I’ve decided are “fan” categories.  If you don’t chase the Beatles, you’re not a “fan,” right?  Wrong.  I’m an embarrassing, melty fangirl around authors I admire.  Ask my husband how long it took me to be able to open my mouth when I met [name redacted because, God, that was embarrassing].  He had to speak up for me before I could manage to get past, “Oh my God, I’m finally meeting [name redacted] and I’m making a fool of myself!”

Well, I’m like that for Kate Beaton.  When I saw she was coming to Boston for a signing  for  Step Aside, Pops and I couldn’t go: (a) I threw things at the wall; (b) I realized it was better to be sad I couldn’t meet her than to be a writhing ball of embarrassment for whatever I said or didn’t say if I did meet her; (c) I wrote a note to the Harvard Book Store to order a signed copy and beg them to ask her to personalize it.  I am not proud of that note at all, but it got me a personalized, signed copy, with a truly lovely little sketch from Kate Beaton’s hand, and I am proud of that.  You will pry that book out of my cold, dead hands.  Death, thou shalt die before I surrender that book.  Got it, buddy?  IT’S MINE.

Sorry, got a little carried away there.  My point is: people, Kate Beaton is fantastic.  And… She Is Canadian.  More than that, she is a Maritimer, from Nova Scotia, and, well.  First I read her historical comics lovingly teasing my own beloved Middle Ages and I truly admired them.  Then I heard she was from Nova Scotia and, I mean, I’m from Sackville, New Brunswick, right next door, and suddenly I became the girl who begged and pleaded with the Harvard Book Store to get me a personalized copy of her latest book.  And then I heard that she was writing a children’s book, The Princess and the Pony (this link includes activity sheets for your child), about one of my favourite of her comic characters, the pony.  You can see the pony, because Kate Beaton was nice enough to allow me to post this comic, below:

Fat Pony original

That one still makes me giggle, and anyone who giggled at that will be thrilled to know that this was relatively early work, and the pony’s character has developed considerably in The Princess and the Pony, where he works with Princess Pinecone to, against all her expectations, become champions.

Princess and the Pony

Princess Pinecone, you see, is a warrior, the smallest (and, arguably, most adorable) warrior in her kingdom.  She’s made it very clear what she wants for her birthday: a strong, proud, noble warrior’s horse.  Instead, she gets a small, round, funny little pony.  She is somewhat disappointed, but diligently works to try to teach her little pony to be a real warrior’s horse.  The pony ambles around, rolls on the ground, and farts too much.  Princess Pinecone is glumly convinced that they will never be champions, but when the battle comes up, the pony proves unexpectedly successful in a wholly new way, and he and Princess Pinecone are unanimously awarded the prize for Most Valuable Warriors.

It’s a charming little story, but the illustrations are what take this book from “Book I enjoyed” to “Book I truly love.”  As with Here Babies, There Babies and Jillian Jiggs, you’ll find someone in here who looks like you and speaks to you, which is an aspect I love: all colours and genders are represented here.  But Kate Beaton’s style, her humour, her zest, all come through here brilliantly in characters who speak as much through the illustrations as through words.  Pinecone, seen above, is a sweet and serious girl, very invested in her interests.  Her anxiety when she first meets her pony is visible: Oh God, do I sympathize with her!  An “almost” right birthday present can be such an awkward piece of business, yes.  But the personality is what truly pulls at my heart: trying so hard to make something not-quite-right work?  I’m almost 29 and I still identify with that.  Who doesn’t?

Princess Pinecone might be the most developed character (apart from the pony, perhaps), but my Changeling and I have endless conversations about the others.  She loves to examine each warrior’s face and equipment and talk about who looks “a little sad,” “a little angry,” or “so, so happy!”  She carefully analyzes the battle, Princess Pinecone’s parents, each ice cream cone on the battlefield, and all of the weapons of battle.  The detail, in short, is impressive, both in the layout of each large spread, and in the pages bare of background detail which focus on particular characters to tell you their story.  These are the pages my Changeling can “read” on her own, and I love watching her develop the stories from the art.

Most impressive of all in that regard, perhaps, is the pony himself.  He’s a major figure (and he has a most impressive figure!), but is limited in speech.  And yet he speaks to you so clearly: his big round eyes, his funny mouth (sometimes tongue out, sometimes in), his round figure, all tell you the same thing… “Awww,” you squeal with Otto the Awful, “what a cute little pony!”  The Changeling’s eyes bulged like the pony’s the first time she saw him: “I want a pony, too!” she announced.  (OK, I’ll admit it, she got one for Chanukkah: he lives in her crib, and you can get one right here.  Cave, submit, leave me not alone in my shame.  You can also get a onesie, shirt, calendar, or mug.  I don’t have those… yet.)

I’m still not clear on this pony, I’ll admit.  Shake your head all you want, but I still analyze him: how much does he understand of what’s going on?  He is a most reserved pony.  He watches more than he speaks.  Does he know what he’s doing at the battle?  Does he know what he’s doing during training?  I suspect he’s much more clever than he lets on, but I can’t swear to it.  I’ll just have to read it a few more times with my Changeling, and maybe ask her opinion again.  Last time, I got good suggestions from her.  She thought it over, and said, “Let’s read it again.”  I suggest you do the same.

(Kate Beaton?  Thanks so much for the permission to use your images, and sorry for the fangirling.  I really love your work, in case that wasn’t clear.)

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