The Duchess of Whimsy


The Duchess of Whimsy:  An Absolutely Delicious Fairy Tale, by Randall de Sève and Peter de Sève

Reviewed by Susan Fry

As my sons have gotten older, they’ve gotten pickier about who they’re willing to play with.  Kids who have been their best friends for years are suddenly boring, or bullies.  And forget about trying to include girls in anything.  Playdates that used to be carefree and fun have become downright challenging.

The other moms and I have tried everything from planning gender-neutral activities to meeting at parks to avoid toy tussles.  But at the end of some afternoons, I find myself demanding, “Why can’t you all just get along?”

So I’ve found myself reading The Duchess of Whimsy to my sons almost every night.

At the beginning of this witty story, it doesn’t look as though the Duchess of Whimsy and the Earl of Norm could ever get along.  After all, they’re completely different!

The Duchess is the life of the party, “known through the land for her extravagant soirees, her elaborate attire, her uncommon conversation, and her most peculiar pets and acquaintances.”  Her parties are enviable events:  fishes float in bubbles above crowds dressed in feathers and silk, and the Duchess frolics in a swing suspended by two fairies.  Even the Duchess’ hairstyle is over-the-top, with its grandiose, billowing waves.

The Earl of Norm, as his name indicates, is more down-to-earth.  He’s positively ordinary, in fact.  He’s far more interested in the kingdom’s roads than in fancy events.

Unsurprisingly, he makes the Duchess yawn.

So when the Earl falls in love with the Duchess, he tries to become more exotic to impress her.  The results are disastrous – and hilarious.  His display of unusual animals, for example, ends with the poor Earl clinging to the tail of a fleeing giraffe.  And his poetry?  Just terrible.

But then the Duchess’ cook gets sick right before a party.  The rest of her “fancy” friends run around trying to scare up elaborate ingredients, such as truffles and quail eggs, that don’t quite work out.  The Earl of Norm, on the other hand, makes a simple grilled cheese sandwich and a glass of milk.  Delicious!

The Duchess quickly discovers that ordinary things can be wonderful, too.  Soon, the two opposites discover they have a lot in common.  It’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

The romantic element is understated, which means the book isn’t too icky for kids who hate kissing.  And while there’s no overt magic in the story, the elaborate illustrations convey an otherworldly quality that will satisfy even the biggest fairytale fan.

Maybe the moral of the story can even spark some reconciliations on the playground.

Susan Fry is a writer and mother in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s written for Stanford Magazine, salon, the San Jose Mercury News, and many other publications.

You can check out the Sweet Peas & Stilettos’ children’s books page for quick access to all of Susan’s wonderful children’s book reviews.

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