Henry’s reflective, sometimes disjointed debut, ably illustrated by Greaves in lovely black-and-white linework with splashes of red, combines a fairy tale with a message of encouragement. Princess Dembe of the Beloved Land in the Bwindi Forest of Uganda is mourning the recent death of her mother, Queen Tessa. Her father, the good-natured King Rumba, and the rest of the kingdom are consumed by grief. Meanwhile, the evil Prince Damian concocts a plan to take over the Beloved Land by either forcing Dembe into marriage or doing away with her altogether. When Rumba falls ill, Dembe must defend her kingdom with the help of the people, three fairies, and her gorilla friend, Abbo.
The cheerful fairies use their magic to control Damian, but the spell is broken and Damian becomes increasingly powerful, leading to an exhilarating battle. Amid the action, some of the scene transitions are too abrupt and confusing, leaving questions unanswered. Dembe is developed into a multifaceted character, but Damian is a straightforward avatar of evil and greed, and Abbo, while a significant part of the princess’s backstory, is a minor, silent figure throughout the rest of the book.
Readers will be particularly drawn to Dembe. The loving relationship she shares with her father is touching, and her determination to find a remedy for the king’s illness, even to the point of wrestling an anteater and collecting its saliva for him to drink, is impressive. She is brave, creative, and independent, far from a damsel in distress. In preparing her kingdom for war, she proves to be a strong leader who encourages cooperation and unity, telling her people, “We can, and we will win this battle by working together.” Henry’s vivid female lead is a solid role model for young readers.
Takeaway: Early readers will be inspired by this empowering and heartfelt Ugandan fairy tale, which features a brave, creative, and independent heroine.
Great for fans of: JudyBee’s Queens of Africa series, Robert Munsch’s The Paper Bag Princess.
Design and typography: A-
Marketing copy: A-