Princess Hyacinth: The Surprising Tale…

February 15, 2011

Princess Hyacinth: The Surprising Tale of a Girl who Floated
Author: Florence Parry Heide
Illustrator: Lane Smith
Best for Age: 4-8
ISBN: 9780375845017
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (2009)
List Price: Hardcover, $17.99
Buy on Amazon

Girlie princess books are a dime a dozen these days, and the majority of them are just plain awful. You know the picture books that I am talking about, the ones that are wrapped in shiny pink covers, doused with glitter, and contain computer-generated illustrations and terrible stories. Factor in the multi-billion dollar, and increasingly permeating nature of the Disney Princess industry, and you’ve got a full-fledged princess plague on your hands.

An example from this nightmare of a genre, even though it is not exactly a “princess” book, would be the Pinkalicious series, by Elizabeth and Victoria Kann. I know these books are extremely popular with young girls, but I just can’t stand them. In my opinion, the illustrations are too much to handle (think if Lisa Frank and Barbie had a Candy Land themed acid trip), and the story lines are lacking. For example, in the first book the main character is obsessed with pink cupcakes, eats too many of them and turns pink herself, then throws a fit about eating green vegetables to counterbalance the popping pink hue of her skin. Even as the cupcake lover that I am, I have to admit that this is not the best message to send little girls. The bottom line is, there are so many better picture book options for young girls, even books about princesses.

Case in point: Princess Hyacinth: The Surprising Tale of a Girl who Floated, written by Florence Parry Heide and illustrated by Lane Smith. It is one of my all-time favorites, and I was so excited to hear that it is nominated for a 2011-2012 California Young Reader Medal (but more on that later).

So why is this book so great? Because the story is silly and amazing (a princess who FLOATS?!), the language is elevated and fun, but not too advanced to go over a young reader’s head, and the illustrations are downright awesome.

Young readers will love to hear the tale of poor Princess Hyacinth, the floating female. Her mom and dad, the King and Queen, make her wear a very heavy crown strapped under her chin, as well as a very heavy robe, and even heavy socks that have little golden weights sewn into them, to keep their royal daughter on the ground. If Princess Hyacinth doesn’t wear her princess clothes she just floats up, up, up.

But Princess Hyacinth wants to float around outside! She is tired of dragging herself around the castle, and spends her days looking longingly at the children playing outside on the palace grounds (while she sits in her swimsuit, strapped down to her chair).

Needless to say, Princess Hyacinth is “terribly, horribly, dreadfully bored,” so one day she decides to go for a walk (which, of course, requires her to get all dressed up in her princess clothes). On her walk she comes across a balloon man, who she convinces to tie a string to her ankle so she can float around in the sky like one of his balloons.

But “alas and alack,” something goes wrong, and the balloon man lets go of the string holding Princess Hyacinth’s ankle, and she begins to float away!

Young readers will surely be eager to see how she gets down…

Heide’s use of dramatic, yet fun, elevated language is part of what makes this book so enjoyable. As Princess Hyacinth floats, kids love to hear how she “whirled and she twirled, she swooshed and she swirled, she zigged and she zagged and she zigzagged. She zoomed and caroomed and cartwheeled.” This type of creative language draws young readers further into a story, and increases their vocabulary with new words and expressions.

Heide’s story is brought to life with Lane Smith’s phenomenal illustrations. Smith’s pictures are whimsical and sweet, but relatable too. For example, Princess Hyacinth doesn’t look like a Barbie doll princess, but rather a cute little 8-year-old girl. Smith’s work is colorful, but it does not attack the eye, and there are plenty of things to look at on each page (kids will love to point out the different animal-shaped topiaries). The book also makes illustrations of the text itself, using different colors, fonts, sizes, and shapes to make the text playful. For example, when Heide writes that Princess Hyacinth floats “up, up, up,” the line of text floats up, up, up the page.

This book is so sweet, witty, and playful, it is sure to become a bedtime favorite. So avoid those jarringly pink, computer-generated, monstrosities, and pick up a copy of Princess Hyacinth, I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Other Not-So-Princessy Princess Books I Would Recommend:



  1. LOVE IT! Sounds like such a cute story. I'll have to buy it and store it up for Miss Janie. Thanks for the good recommendation!Have you ever read "Martina the Beautiful Cockroach" ? Cute story too with a great message about picking the right mate.

  2. Your use of illustrations is very nice. Seeing how the "Pinkalicious" cover "attacks the eye", as you describe it, compared to the "Princess Hyacinth" images told me the theme of your post before I even read it. I will copy Susie above me and recommend you a favorite book from my childhood: "Ice Cream Cone Coot, and Other Rare Birds" by Arnold Lobel. I don't know if it is still in print, or even famous at all, but if you ever get the chance, it is worth the time.

  3. Susie, I have indeed read _Martina_ (it is nominated for a 2010-2011 CYRM… see my latest post on the subject). I love the story, but I'm not crazy about the illustrations, they just aren't my style. But it is still an awesome book, and kids love it! They have been flying off the shelf at the bookstore where I work.And Mike, I had never heard of _Ice Cream Cone Coot_, but after a little searching I found that it is sadly out of print! Thankfully, you can buy used, and even some new, out of print books on Amazon for pretty cheap.I'm also thinking about writing a post on out of print favorites! Thank you for the recommendation!

  4. This is the illustrator you have a celebrity crush on, right? Well, I can tell why–what amazing illustrations!

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