Kate Beaton’s The Princess and the Pony is, intriguingly, not told via the sequential art form that makes her so well-known for her irreverent web comic, Hark! A Vagrant. Despite this, the picture book is clearly recognizable as Beaton’s work with her thick-lined characters and their extremely diverse and expressive faces.
Princess Pinecone, the smallest warrior in her kingdom, wants a real warrior horse for her birthday this year instead of the cozy sweaters she keeps receiving. Although she does, in fact, receive a horse, it doesn’t quite live up to her expectations. Instead of a fast, strong warrior horse, Pinecone is given a tiny roly-poly pony with a flatulence problem. Determined to make the best of her situation, Pinecone tries to train the pony for the upcoming battle, with rollicking results.
While the story itself is funny and charming, what truly makes The Princess and the Pony such a wonderful picture book is, of course, its pictures. Beaton blends sparse text with tons of visual humor, making this a delight for both one-on-one reading with a child or a shared storytime experience. After we first see Pinecone donning a horned viking helmet, we turn the page to see her in a line-up with some of the other warriors in the kingdom showing off their birthday presents. While the other warriors wield shields, amulets, helmets, and even a falcon, Pinecone wears a sweater proclaiming her a “Special Girl.” Children and adults alike will enjoy closely examining scenes such as Pinecone’s bedroom and, of course, the epic battle.
The battle scenes showcase yet another aspect that makes The Princess and the Pony such a welcome addition to library shelves: Beaton does an excellent job of showcasing diversity naturally. While it does not affect the story at all, this kingdom of warriors is diverse in every sense of the word. With varying skin tones, sizes, ages, and personal styles, no two characters in this picture book look alike. This is best shown in the double-page spread of the battle which offers a smorgasbord of characters. Pinecone herself is racially diverse, with a dark-skinned, dark-haired mother, and light-skinned, blonde father. None of this feels forced, but rather natural in Beaton’s kingdom.
In addition to showcasing a diverse set of characters, Beaton weaves pop-culture references into her artwork, creating some anachronistic hilarity, such as seeing a hot dog vendor at the epic battle or viewing Pinecone’s posters of various warrior teams, reminiscent of rock band posters. When the warriors, wishing to showcase their cuddly sides, don some of Pinecone’s cozy sweaters, readers are treated to another hilarious lineup, this time with the warriors looking more like hipsters at an ugly sweater party than ready-for-battle brutes. Even the endpapers are in on the joke, with the back endpapers featuring our adorable little pony wearing cozy sweaters of its own.
The Princess and the Pony
by Kate Beaton
Publisher Age Rating: 4 – 8 years old