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Invisible Princess
written and illustrated by Faith Ringgold
Random House, 32 pages

Invisible Princess
Faith Ringgold
Faith Ringgold is a sculptor, painter, and quilter whose works can be seen in museum collections throughout the United States. She began writing and illustrating books in 1991 with her delightful children's book, Tar Beach, a Caldecott Honour Book and winner of the Coretta Scott King Award. Other books of hers include Aunt Harriet's Underground Railroad in the Sky and Dinner at Aunt Connie's House. She is a professor of fine art at the University of California at San Diego. An artist of international stature, she has exhibited her multi-media works at The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, and in galleries throughout the world.

Faith Ringgold Website
ISFDB Bibliography
Biography at University of California
The Invisible Princess
Faith Ringgold Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Lela Olszewski

What is a fairy tale? Not all fairy tales contain fairies, although they often contain mythical creatures from goblins and trolls to dragons and witches. Magic is often employed, but rarely are the gods (or Gods) invoked. Kindness, innocence, and true love are rewarded, while cruelty, greed, and evil are punished. Justice prevails, but mercy is rare.

Invisible Princess was written because Faith Ringgold's grandchildren wanted to know where the African American princesses were in the fairy tales their grandmother read to them. So she created this story of a slave child's escape from slavery through the intervention of the gods. The princess, although the focus of the story, is not the heroine, her role being virtually passive throughout the story. Instead it is the story of her parents, the slave master, and his daughter. The characters have Symbolic Names In Capital Letters, like "Mama Love," "Patience," "The Queen of Bees," and the title character, who has no name beyond "The Invisible Princess."

One of my favourite childhood fairy tales included an African princess, along with goblins, enchanted frogs, a wizard, and magical chests full of jewels. So I'm sure it would be possible to write a children's story, even a fairy tale, with an African American princess. Faith Ringgold, however, has allowed her goals to subvert the form, and written an allegory. That the story is an allegory might not be a problem, except that the preschoolers this story is aimed at are concrete thinkers, not yet old enough to think symbolically, and will miss the symbolic aspects of the story.

At the book's end, the "mean old slave master," Captain Pepper, is allowed to join his former slaves in their heaven, the Invisible Village of Peace, Freedom, and Love. Mercy may be a quality adults desire, but fairy tales are one place in which it is justice we hope for. We cheer when Cinderella's stepmother is forced to become a laundress, when Hansel and Gretel trick the witch and she ends up in the stove, and when good triumphs over evil. The slave master's simple repentance when he loses his daughter hardly makes up for the wrongs he inflicted as a slave owner, and weakens the story significantly.

The illustrations that fill the book are in Faith Ringgold's exuberant style, and the cover illustration is particularly delightful. Unlike her other work, none of the illustrations are of her story quilts, although the book jacket does note the story inspired a quilt, "Born in a Cottonfield."

It's unfortunate that an author and illustrator with Faith Ringgold's abilities wasn't able to accomplish what she wanted to. Fairy tales are beloved by children, and another with new characters to care about as they overcome obstacles would be something to celebrate. I hope she'll try again with better success.

Copyright © 1999 by Lela Olszewski

Lela Olszewski is an avid reader of science fiction, fantasy, mystery and romance, as well as an eclectic mix of other fiction and non-fiction. She is also a quilter and a librarian, and believes fully in Rosenberg's Law: Never apologize for your reading tastes. She has no cats and is currently reading Get Shorty, My Last Days as Roy Rogers, The Phoenix Guards, and Passionate Marriage.

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