When I asked Plough Publishing House if I could pretty please have a review copy of The Prince Who Was Just Himself by Silke Schnee, I knew only that it was a children’s picture book about a child with Down Syndrome. I thought that there would surely be TOTS readers who could relate to it, but I am happy to report that it is so beautifully and subtly written that I’m pretty sure we can all relate to it. After all, don’t we all have quirks that provoke ridicule? Aren’t there things about all of us that are at once both strengths and weaknesses? Isn’t there a niche in the world for all of us to fill?
Book Review: The Prince Who Was Just Himself
The story opens on a family made up of a king, queen, and two princes. Prince Jonas is good at soccer; Prince Luke is good at reading. When Prince Noah is born into the family, he is not good at sports or reading, though he has talents of his own, like really taking a good look at a daisy. He moves slowly, but he doesn’t need or want to move quickly. He doesn’t say much, but “people understood him just as well.”
When a villian threatens the kingdom, the three princes ride out heroically to save the day. Without telling you everything, I will say that Noah saves the day using the very strengths that some in the kingdom see only as weaknesses. He is important and necessary in his world.
The Prince Who Was Just Himself is not sappy or cloying. It is lovely and straightforward, like Prince Noah. While it has implications about how to view disability, it is mostly about an individual, which is perhaps the most important implication of all. In every way, words and illustrations, the portrayal of Noah focuses on how he is “himself” rather than on how he is an example of a child with Down Syndrome, yet without disguising the attributes of his condition. It’s a fine line to walk and Schnee walks it so well, probably because she is writing in large part about her own children.
Initially, I thought maybe there was too sharp a distinction drawn between the two older brothers as “normal” and Noah as something other than “normal”, though the word “normal” was never used. However, the beginning of the book actually does talk about the reluctance of the king to have more children because of windows broken by wayward soccer balls and the like. In other words, it does highlight sports skills as both a strength and a weakness, so instead of being a criticism, I find that this is another thing the book did well. It might have been nice if all three princes had a part in saving the kingdom, but it’s good as is.
For my libertarian husband, I’ll say, “Why royalty?”, even though, personally, I love a good fairy tale as much as anyone and more than most.
Enough of what I think; what did my kids think? They both said they liked it. My son said it was long, and that he liked it because it was long. My daughter just said, “Again! Again! Again! Again! Again! ” So I guess it gets a full five “again” rating. 🙂
The book was originally published in German by Neufeld Verlag as Die Geschichte von Prinz Seltsam. The Prince Who Was Just Himself is available on Amazon now and in bookstores September 1st.