My seven-year-old daughter brought me the audio book of Princess Academy by Shannon Hale this week when we were in the library. I’d never heard of it, but she told me her friend had told her that it was a really good book. Her friend is in junior high, so I thought I’d better read the book before listening to it with all the kids.
The basic story line is that the girls from a mountain village are forced to go to an academy for an entire year to learn to be a princess because the priests in the capital said that the prince’s wife will come from this village.
The girls do not read or write, most work in the mines. The story revolves around Miri, a young girl who’s mother died when she was young. Miri’s father does not allow her to work in the mines, which makes her feel useless. The academy comes, and she is forced to go.
Along the way, Miri learns the importance of education and reading, she learns how much she loves her village and really doesn’t want to leave to be a wealthy princess. She learns to apply the lessons she’s learned in the academy (the scene where she applies the Principles of Diplomacy is wonderful!), and learns a secret form of communicating she thought was only available to quarry workers.
Princess Academy is a wonderful, engaging story with great lessons for young girls – and boys (if you can get them to listen in or read it. There is plenty of adventure to keep them interested). I would recommend it for older elementary or junior high students. Miri talks about her feelings for her childhood friend and her conflict over wanting to be with him or be the princess with the beautiful dresses and houses. Good things to think about for older girls – I think my girls are a bit too young to be thinking about those topics.
Recommended for ages 10 and up.
Update: A sequel! Princess Academy: Palace of Stone is now available. I enjoyed this book, but didn’t find it as enchanting as the first book. I appreciate Miri’s difficult dilemma – caught between the ordinary people of the kingdom, who are ripe for rebellion against the royal family, and her best friend, who is engaged to marry the prince. In this book, she learns to be discerning, after being used by the rebels, and finds a way to help both the royal family and the ordinary people. But some of the situations and characters seemed too extreme – and Miri seemed the be the only one caught between the two sides, which I also found unbelievable. If you like The Princess Academy, you’ll enjoy reading the sequel. But Princess Academy: Palace of Stone does not stand on its own.