Can you resist an invincible hamster princess? I certainly couldn’t, and was quite relieved to find this just as much fun as it looked.
Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible by Ursula Vernon. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2015
Here is a twist on the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale perfect for middle and upper elementary students, and younger for read-alouds. Princess Harriet (yes, she is a hamster) is thrilled when her parents tell her that an early encounter with an evil fairy has doomed her to prick her finger on a hamster wheel and fall asleep on her twelfth birthday. She’s always had trouble being the quiet, indoor type of princess and this means she’s invincible – she can do anything she wants! Much to her parents’ disapproval – they would much rather she stayed home and work on finding the right prince to kiss her awake after the fact – she sets out on a life of adventure and monster-battling on her faithful quail steed.
Like Vernon’s popular Dragonbreath series, the story alternates prose storytelling with comic book panels, often for the action scenes. Vernon makes this style work very well, and it’s a great choice, especially for reluctant readers who are intimidated by large blocks of text. The story is fun for everyone, though. Vernon looks at the stereotypes as she’s upending them, so that even as we’re sympathetic towards Harriet’s reluctance to take romance seriously at her young age and cheering for her on her adventures – Harriet also has some lessons to learn about her unthinking targeting of creatures she considers monsters. There’s a whole lot of fun and, yes, adventure with a very likeable new heroine and her brave yet adorable quail. Ms. Yingling had mentioned that the hamsters are not quite as expressive as the reptiles in the Dragonbreath books. Unfortunately, I have to agree with her. I did have some trouble telling some of the characters and expressions apart, but that didn’t keep me from enjoying the book. And it’s certainly not keeping this from flying off the shelves at my library.
Official disclaimer – this book is nominated for the Cybils award, but this is my personal opinion on the book, not the opinion of the Cybils committee.