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I sometimes wonder if I am not unfair, criticising the assembly-line productions of collectible children's book series that seem to be more prominent (and substantially longer!) now than ever.
After all, they do what they are supposed to do, the publishers and presumably the authors can laugh all the way to the bank, and if the children are reading, isn't it better than if they are not??
The early reader niche is a hard one, because the text needs to be simple and easy to deal with for the approximately 6 year old who has just started to read by themselves. The fairy and princessy series provide this just-starting-to-read material in a format that might appeal to many girls of that age, and thus should, in theory, encourage them to develop skills they will hopefully soon use to read something better.
But these THINGS are, I believe, made as a pure money spinner. They are an early-reader equivalent of Pokemon cards, masquerading as books, with endless sub series within series within themed groups. They encourage collection mania in all possible ways and I really think that their value as a painless way to ease a child into reading on their own isn't worth the expense or the attention and time that could be used on something else.
But enough of the general musings, what about the title that provoked them? "Princess Hannah and the Little Black Kitten" belongs to the endless series of Tiara Club, which consists of little books containing "adventures" of princesses sent for schooling in The Princess Academy. They get educated "with emphasis on the arts and the outdoor activities", in subjects like flower arranging, posture, etiquette, games and dancing. The school, is, naturally a boarding school. Sparkles, ball gowns and tiaras abound. All the girls are very pretty, most are saccharinely kind and they all pout. The adventures are anything but, and there is nothing - but nothing at all - challenging in the storyline, characters or setting.
In "Princess Hannah and the Little Black Kitten" the girls are in the Pearl Palace, and dashing for breakfast on their very first day there. They find a little black kitten: sweet, soft, fluffy and simply gorgeous. They miss breakfast, and summoned in front of the King Everest (presumably the headmaster - and the only male in the house), they get into trouble: nobody believes their tale of the little black kitten as pets are not allowed in the Pearl Palace. Will the girls manage to show that they are truthful and kind? And how?
As you can see, the whole thing works within the princess format that little girls are showered with all the time, and does it to such a the degree that the "Rainbow Magic" series (which I already reviewed) is by comparison a truly tomboyish thriller.
I don't personally believe that reading princess tales and watching fairy films turns little girls into girlishly-twitterishly-feminine and externalities-obsessed bigger girls as I think that so called "real life" is much more important, but I think there is something at demeaning and very, very exploitative in weaving a 27 volume (priced £3.99 each) series in this convention.
As an early reader for those who struggle, this Tiara Club book could possibly work OK, as it's very short, got particularly large type, simple vocab with only an odd challenging word thrown in and some mildly humorous illustrations. But unless your daughter refuses to read anything else, I wouldn't bother, ande even then, I would borrow and not buy.
Orchard Books (4 Oct 2007) paperback, 80 Pages.
This review was originally written for www.thebookbag.co.uk.
Princess Hannah is so pleased to be at Pearl Palace with her friends from Lily Room! But when she finds a little black kitten, the nasty twins are determined to get her into trouble!