(Side note: it was not in my original plan to take all four of my kids, but I'll tell you more about that another day . . . )
First, let me tell you a little about this book. While I am an avid Shannon Hale fan, my kids are not familiar with any of her other books because they are not old enough yet to enjoy them (although, I have to say that when I read Rapunzel's Revenge last year, Aaron was totally sucked in by the pictures and asked me dozens of questions about what was going on at this point or that point). But the Princess in Black is just the right level for the three older ones (ages 6, 4, and 3) to enjoy.
It's about Princess Magnolia--she's pretty and frilly and just, oh, so perfect. The Duchess Wigtower is determined to find something to put a mark in the princess's pristine reputation.While they are conversing over tea, Princess Magnolia gets an urgent call on her ring phone--a monster has escaped from Monster Land. Making a hurried excuse, Princess Magnolia transforms into . . . the Princess in Black! She dons a black mask and rides her unicorn-turned-horse to the entrance to Monster Land and puts a quick end to his hungry plans. She makes it back to tea but not without making the duchess a little suspicious.
Those who have compared it to Mercy Watson are exactly right--the full-color pictures on every page, the short chapters, the funny action reminded me of our beloved Mercy in all the right ways. And there are several more books to come! That makes me pretty happy.
Now that you know all about Princess Magnolia, you might wonder how my boys reacted to her. Because, as some of you know, they pretty much balk at anything with ribbons or lace. But I'm happy to tell you that even though this book is about a princess, it is one that girls and boys will enjoy. They eyed it warily but were immediately pulled into the story: there's action and danger, a noble horse, and an awesome goat boy . . . and also, the princess in black, who is pretty awesome herself.
Anyway, back to the author event.
The boys wore masks and tied black scarves around their heads to get into the appropriate mood.
Don't let the empty chairs fool you. We were the first ones to arrive (since I was juggling all four kids by myself, I wanted to make sure we had plenty of wiggle room).
The Hales made a dramatic entrance:
And then they talked about and read from their new book. (When they started, everyone was wearing masks, and they said something like, "We were hoping there would be some people we knew here, but we don't recognize anyone!" At which cue, Bradley whipped off his. They both acted appropriately surprised and said, "Oh, it's you! You could have been anyone under there: a monkey, a man, anyone!" Bradley reveled in the attention.) They kept it all fast-paced and entertaining so that even Bradley stayed interested the entire time (unfortunately, not Clark, but I'll reserve those details for the aforementioned post for another day).
Afterwards we waited in line to have our book signed. The Hales were personable and friendly. I was so impressed with how truly interested they were in every child in attendance, taking their questions seriously and acting thrilled to have them there.
A few days later, I saw a picture like the one below in this article from Publishers Weekly. I think I recognize three of those ninjas.
P.S. If you'd like to read more about what Shannon Hale herself thinks about this latest book, see "Like every superhero, every book has an origin story."