The Birthday Ball is an utterly delightful romp, exactly the sort of book to read aloud to a wide-eyed, dreamy, fairy-tale-loving nine-year old girl (or exactly the right book for a no-longer-wide-eyed grown up who just needs to escape for an hour or so). If you’re not reading anything and everything Lois Lowry writes, well, you’re just denying yourself pleasure, I’d say. The lady is a masterful writer. Her writing in The Birthday Ball is clever, surprising, touching, light, and smile-inducing. I can imagine this book on a girl’s shelf of most-loved classics forty years down the road. It’s delish.
Lowry tells the tale of Princess Priscilla, who is beyond bored with her life and so, less than a week before her sixteenth birthday ball, decides to disguise herself as a peasant and attend the school in the village. This is an eye-opening experience for the Princess. She enjoys the company of the village children (and the handsome school teacher). When her birthday ball arrives, the princess faces the prospect of choosing a husband from an entirely yucky collection of suitors. She must find a way to make things right, to find a life for herself that will let her leave boredom behind for good and be the right ruler for her people.
Jules Feiffer’s illustrations are as quirky and full of energy and humour as ever. Their whimsy fits the tone of Lowry’s narrative perfectly. The whole text is very neat. You feel like each word has been placed just so, for the reader’s pleasure. Of course, I could not forget to mention Priscilla’s wonderful, haughty, difficult-to-manage cat, Delicious. Every time Delicious comes into the story, Lowry brings in a little clever word play, so that Priscilla says something to Delicious that rhymes with the cat’s name (“Don’t be so vicious, Delicious.”). Adorable. Funny every time.
The Birthday Ball is a charmer. Just right for a gift for any girl eager to discover new things, looking to make her own way in the world, and maybe fall in love along the way.
The Birthday Ball is published by Houghton Mifflin.