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Sonderbooks Book Review of

The Birthday Ball

by Lois Lowry

illustrations by Jules Feiffer


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The Birthday Ball

by Lois Lowry
illustrations by Jules Feiffer

Reviewed June 6, 2010.
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2010. 186 pages.

Princess Patricia Priscilla is bored. When she gets to talking with the seventeenth chambermaid and hears how much the girl loved school, she gets an idea. She'll wear the chambermaid's clothes and go to the village school.

The village school has a new schoolmaster, who is trying to learn to look stern, as a schoolmaster should. He is kind to his new pupil and tells her she would make a good teacher, after she takes in hand a little orphan girl.

But Patricia Priscilla can only enjoy this illicit pleasure for one week. For at the end of the week is her sixteenth birthday and the Birthday Ball, at which time she will have to choose a noble suitor.

The suitors who plan to attend are all over-the-top awful. Duke Desmond of Dyspepsia has the face of a warthog and huge, crooked, brown-spotted teeth. He is so ugly that looking glasses, mirrors, and any shiny object that might cast a reflection have been abolished from his domain. He travels with a band of splashers, so that no lake or body of water will be still enough when he passes by to reflect his face.

Prince Percival of Pustula, on the other hand, travels with a team of mirror-carriers, so that he can look at himself instead of at the scenery. He dresses entirely in black and keeps his hair and mustache dyed jet black and well oiled. A servant walks behind him with a brush, ready to brush off his abundant dandruff.

But Lois Lowry's inventive genius truly stands out in the third and fourth suitors -- Counts Colin and Cuthbert the Conjoint. I have to admit this is the first fairy-tale type story I've ever read with conjoined twins. They are joined at the middle, but unfortunately, they don't get along at all. They constantly fight, at least when they aren't exchanging belches or rude bathroom jokes.

Jules Feiffer's illustrations perfectly match the book. The people in the book are caricatures, so his caricatures make just the right illustrations. The plot is quite simple, but the fun is in the silly ways all the elements come together to bring us to the outcome we're looking for of the princess getting to choose the most worthy man at the ball.

The story is light and fluffy and fun. This would be a good choice for girls who like princess stories (or maybe the Rainbow Magic Fairies) and are ready to read a longer book with many chapters, but also large print and plenty of illustrations. It also would make a nice read-aloud with plenty of places for laughter. There are nice silly touches, like the princess speaking to her cat Delicious with words that rhyme with his name, and the queen being quite deaf and always misunderstanding what people say to her.