Written by Lois Lowry
Illustrated by Jules Feiffer
Most enjoyed by 4th through 6th graders
Princess Patricia Priscilla is turning 16 soon and dreading it. On that day, at her birthday ball, she must choose a husband according to the laws of the domain. Unfortunately, that is the last thing Princess Patricia wants to do. She's bored with her life and so, inspired by a conversation with her chambermaid Tess, decides to switch places for one day with the girl and become a peasant. After putting on Tess's humble garments, Princess Patricia heads off to school, there becoming the student Pat and learning that there are quite a few differences between peasant life and royal life. The headmaster welcomes her but he's very different from the old, stern teacher Tess had warned her about. In fact, he's young, quite handsome and very kind.
Meanwhile, in domains far away, four princes get ready to woo Princess Pat. Each one is repulsive in his own way and not a single one of them cares a bit about her, concerned only about the prestige and power and money a marriage to her will bring. As the ball nears, Pat becomes more determined to have her way but the princes are just as determined as well. Which one will Pat choose? Will she be forced to live the rest of her life in misery or will she find a way to make her dreams come true?
'The Birthday Ball' is a delightful tale of a young princess taking charge of her life. The four princes from which Pat must choose are each deliciously disgusting so readers cringe throughout the story guessing which one will be selected. Thanks to Tess, the headmaster Rafe, and the peasant school children, Pat changes from a self-centered, disinterested princess to one that is warm and caring. When Pat makes her choice, readers will cheer and agree that it's the very best choice.
While the cover of 'The Birthday Ball' may appeal to younger readers, I think the book is best enjoyed by slightly older readers, say 4th through 6th graders. The preparations the four princes go through to woo Pat are so extreme they're funny. Pat herself is a character that one dislikes initially due to her self-centeredness, but as she changes, so do the reader's feelings about her. I particularly liked the royal staff who serve the King, Queen and Princess so faithfully, especially the three singing servant girls. I found myself humming along with them as they sang in their three-part harmony.
'The Birthday Ball' is a perfect read for a lazy summer day so grab a pencil and add it to your summer reading list (you have one started, don't you?!).