Book of the Week: The Real Princess (A Mathemagical Tale)

Hello everyone, Katje here. Welcome to 2015! I hope the new year is treating you well so far.

As it’s the first month of the year, for my Book of the Week posts I’ll be focusing on books that cover the basics: literacy, numeracy; words and numbers. Our first book is The Real Princess (A Mathemagical Tale) by Brenda Williams and illustrated by Sophie Fatus.

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A bit about the book: The Real Princess is a re-telling of The Princess and the Pea — in it, the prince is looking for a princess, but she must be a real princess, according to his mother. This means she must be sensitive enough to feel a pea under several mattresses — because a princess must be sensitive and empathetic to what her people need.

Everything in the book is counted and numbers are emphasized throughout — the mattresses, peas, footmen, cooks, servants, horses. Whatever appears in the story gets a number. The book includes a “Test Your Counting Skills” section where young mathematicians can try out what they’ve learned.

Story summary: The king and queen have three sons and it is time for them to be married. The king has a bag of money for each of his sons and will give it to him when he starts out on his own in life. When a princess arrives at the door and the king and queen’s youngest son is smitten, the queen fetches some golden peas to hide under the princess’s several mattresses. It turns out she is not a real princess — she sleeps peacefully the night through — but she is princess enough for the youngest son, so they marry and live happily ever after anyway. The queen throws the peas from under the bed out the window.

The same occurs with a new princess and the middle son, who also live happily ever after, and the queen also throws those peas out the window. The one day the eldest son is coming home to his castle when he meets a young woman weaving flowers into her hair. They explore together and then ride back to the castle at dusk. As they are talking over dessert, the queen puts the last golden pea under 10 feather beds and 9 mattresses. The next morning, the princess says she did not sleep well at all, and the queen is satisfied, for she knows her son has found a real princess. She flings the last golden pea out the window.

The son and princess are married, and the son is given the last bag of gold from the king. In the epilogue, it is revealed that the king is worried about their lack of money. The queen shows him where pea plants have sprung up from the peas she threw out the window, and only one plant — the one from the pea the real princess slept on — has produced more golden peas. The king and queen have more than enough money to last them some time, and everyone lives happily ever after.

What kids will get out of this book and why it’s special: The Princess and the Pea is a classic tale, but in this book it gets a mathematical makeover to help make numbers more fun. Math is such a scary subject for so many kids — it was for me! — and anything that can be done to make it more accessible is good in my eyes. By putting the numbers right into the story, it doesn’t feel like a chore to add or subtract things, or to test your counting skills — it feels like fun. And it should be!

Also, for kids like me who are more interested in the “right brain” things like reading or the arts, this book provides a great bridge between that and “left brain” subjects like math.

This book is recommended for kids age 4 to 9, and I would say especially for kids who may have math struggles or just an apprehension about the subject.


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