Debut author and illustrator Himes reimagines the classic fairy tale “The Princess and the Pea” and sets her story in an African-American community in the mid-1950s. There is a princess, and there are peas, but that’s the extent of the connection to the original tale. Here, Ma Sally is the best cook in Charleston County, South Carolina, famous for her black-eyed peas and supper tables piled high with collard greens, sweet potatoes, and hot rolls. But she’s concerned about finding a wife for her son, John. “She couldn’t bear the thought of her only child sitting down to an ill-cooked meal.” So a cooking contest ensues, and a young lady named Princess wins hands down, making the best black-eyed peas Ma Sally’s ever tasted. But Princess has a mind of her own, and John must live up to her standards as well. Turns out Princess and John are two peas in a pod, and Ma Sally couldn’t be happier. Himes uses a variety of media—acrylic, watercolor, pencil, ink, and collage—to create a series of double-page spreads that complement her story about a strong and embracing African-American community on the brink of the civil rights movement. Dedicated to “black families everywhere,” this heartwarming story, with its fairy-tale tone, will have broad appeal.
Food, family, and community are the heart of debut author/illustrator Himes’s retelling of the classic Hans Christian Andersen story. Ma Sally, “the best cook in Charleston County, South Carolina,” is concerned when her son John wants to get married, because the local gals might not feed him right, so she plans a cooking contest to see if anyone is worthy. Kind and thoughtful John is considered a catch, and several women answer the call. After they fail to impress Ma Sally in the kitchen, a newcomer to town arrives at Ma Sally’s, saying she heard about some kind of contest. Introducing herself, Princess sets to work making the best peas Ma Sally has ever tasted. Princess then suggests that John might take her dancing—after he washes the dishes, of course. The narrative’s rhythm and pacing hearken back to its fairy-tale roots, and the rich text (“tables groaned under crocks”) will have readers’ mouths watering. Himes immerses children in the Formica world of the 1950s setting, and the pastel-colored backgrounds make the characters practically pop off the page. Her textured acrylic, watercolor, and mixed-media illustrations add dimension, bringing readers into a vibrant African American community that they’ll want to return to again and again. Princess’s winning pea recipe is appended. VERDICT This retelling of a classic tale is a fresh interpretation and a fun read-aloud. A first purchase for most collections.
—School Library Journal