La Princesa and the Pea

author: Susan Middleton Elya  
illustrator: Juana Martinez-Neal 
Putnam, 2017 
preschool-grade 3 

La Princesa and the Pea is a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s popular tale, “The Princess and the Pea,” here set in a Peruvian village. Throughout, Elya uses mostly English with some Spanish. The queen is “la reina,” and she’s got some serious control issues around her son, “el príncipe.” 

Aligning it with the familiar tale, Elya uses a simple and effective rhyme scheme to move the story along. She includes  Spanish words into the rhymes and, perhaps most importantly, the words are not translated on the page. Instead, they are red and there is a glossary at the end of the book, if you need it. I would not go as far to say this is a bilingual book, but I would say it is a book that appreciates the Spanish language.

For me, what elevates this book is Juana Martinez-Neal’s illustrations. Rendered in acrylics, colored pencil and graphite on textured paper, they are gorgeous, intricate, and funny. I mean, really, laugh-out-loud funny.

First, there is la reina. She is not pleased. She wears a red llicila (shawl) with a repeated pattern of little people on it, and a deep red montera (hat) that often hosts her cat, who is equally unimpressed. No woman is ever going to be good enough for her son, and she seems always on the verge of pinching or throwing a shoe (although I may be giving her some of my own abuela’s attributions).

Juana Martinez-Neal has lovingly given us a book that reflects her own Peruvian culture. She includes a vast array of woven patterns, deep reds and oranges throughout. But, most importantly, she provides people who represent a spectrum of Peruvian-ness.

Some of the characters wear chullos (hats with ear flaps) while some women are wearing monteras (wide brimmed hats that form a sort of bowl). The peoples skin tones are all different shades, which shows young readers diversity, even within a single ethnicity. Oh, and the chickens, roosters, and guinea pigs that are in constant motion provide yet another reason to come back to this book over and over again.

So, if and when you are willing to ditch Skippyjon Jones (see in favor of actual Latinx representations, La Princesa and the Pea is recommended.

—Laura Jiménez

An earlier version of this review first appeared in Laura Jiménez's blog, Booktoss ( We thank Laura for permission.

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