Princess Patricia Priscilla is bored with her royal life and the excitement surrounding her sixteenth birthday ball. Doomed to endure courtship by three grotesquely unappealing noblemen, she escapes her fate--for a week. Disguised as a peasant, she attends the village school as the smart new girl, "Pat," and attracts friends and the attention of the handsome schoolmaster. Disgusting suitors, lovable peasants, and the clueless king and queen collide at the ball, where Princess Patricia Priscilla calls the shots. What began as a cure for boredom becomes a chance for Princess Patricia Priscilla to break the rules and marry the man she loves.
A Q&A with Lois Lowry, Author of The Birthday Ball Q:
In the book, Princess Patricia Priscilla disguises herself as a peasant to attend school. Have you ever gone anywhere incognito? A:
Funny you asked! Back when I used to write for the Maine Times
, I once took off my wedding ring and went to a singles dance. Such events were unusual back then--this would have been early 1970s. I remember meeting--and dancing with--a guy whose occupation was gravedigger. "That's seasonal work, of course," he said. Q:
Many of your books end with people finding strength or love or hope in another human being. Do you set out to impart a message of kindness in your work? A:
No, I never set out with anything. But when on my Facebook profile there was a place to fill in "Religion," I typed in "the Dalai Lama." I did so not because I am Buddhist--I'm not--but because I remembered reading that he once said "My religion is kindness." That seems the best sort of message, to me. Q:
Your first book was published in 1977. How do you think publishing for young people has changed since then? And have you noticed a difference in how kids interact with authors and the kinds of questions they ask you? A:
Writing for kids has become a very trendy occupation. Probably soon "children’s author" will replace "lawyer" as the answer to "What is virtually everybody becoming?" And so it is now a more competitive field, which is probably a good thing, because competition always raises the quality. But on the downside, it has become more commercial, I think, and sometimes less literary. As far as kids' communication, in the early days it was handwritten, heartfelt letters. Now it is more often unpunctuated, school-assignment e-mails. With wonderful exceptions, of course. The covers of Lois Lowry's books often have interesting stories and personal connections to Lowry. Here she talks about a few: The Giver (1993):
I was doing a magazine article about Carl Nelson, a painter who lived on an island off the coast of Maine. By the time I wrote The Giver
, he had died, but I had saved some of the photos I had done and used one the cover. Messenger (2004):
This features a wonderful boy named Jesse, fourteen years old when I photographed him, and growing his first mustache. He offered to shave but I told him he didn't need to; I shaved off his mustache with Photoshop. Number the Stars (1989):
The photograph on Number the Stars
is of a family friend's daughter, taken originally as a portrait. Anna Katerina Johnson, who was ten when her parents hired me to photograph her in 1977, now has four children of her own. The Silent Boy (2003):
This cover photograph was taken by my grandmother's sister, Mary Fulton Boyd, in 1912. She grew up in Pennsylvania, and after college went to New York to study photography--such a bold step for a woman in that era! I always admired her, and she left me her photographs when she died. The Willoughbys (2008):
Illustrated by me!
(Photo © Neil Giordano)
Grade 6–8—Princess Patricia Priscilla will soon be 16, marrying age in her kingdom. A birthday ball is planned where suitors will woo her. The very bored princess knows that once she is married, she will not have much freedom, so she swaps clothes with her chambermaid to spend the week as a peasant girl attending the village school. There she meets the handsome, sweetly smart schoolteacher. Meanwhile, the suitors, each awful in his own way, prepare for the ball, as do the princess's parents: the hard-of-hearing queen and the easily distracted king. This is not a kingdom in which royalty is feared; the princess is playful and smart and her servants are cheerful and curious. Everyone is hardworking and upbeat. Lowry obviously has fun with wordplay and puns. The princess has a cat named Delicious to whom she always speaks teasingly. For example, when she eyes some birds, the princess tells her, "Don't be malicious, Delicious." There is some tension about who the princess will marry, the suitors being wonderfully flawed, but the author does not make readers worry unduly. This is a captivating but gentle fairy tale with memorable characters and wonderfully swirly, evocative, energetic character sketches by the fabulous Feiffer.—Geri Diorio, The Ridgefield Library, CT
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