Laura Amy Schlitz has been on my radar since I read her Splendors and Glooms back a few years ago (a book which I handed to twelve year old Louise on our last library trip and which she subsequently devoured). Having only read that one book by her, I associate her with creepy, atmospheric stories that are detailed and dense. I couldn’t quite figure out how Princess Cora and the Crocodile would fit that profile, but I was willing to find out, and I took my boys along for the ride. We read it as a read-aloud spread over several days, with even an intermission in our reading at one point because I read to them in the scraps of time we have here and there and sometimes those scraps disappear with nary a trace.
Princess Cora and the Crocodile is the story of the titular character, a princess who lives with her royal parents, well-meaning adults who take the raising of their daughter very, very seriously. On the day of her birth:
So that very day the King and Queen began to train Princess Cora. They stopped thinking she was perfect and started worrying about what might be wrong with her. By the time she was seven years old, there wasn’t a single minute when Princess Cora wasn’t being trained. (2)
Poor Princess Cora is made to take several baths a day at the insistence of her nanny, to read deadly dull books about the running of kingdoms with her mother, and to skip rope with her stopwatch wielding-father to his chant of “Faster! Faster! A future queen must be strong!. . .Skipping rope is good for you!” Princess Cora has her own thoughts about her life but is afraid to tell her parents how much she hates the constant poking and prodding. Then an idea comes to her: what if she had a dog? A dog would love her without demands. Of course, a dog is too dirty and too time-consuming for a perfect princess who is a queen-in-training. Poor Princess Cora writes a letter to her fairy godmother in desperation. Her fairy godmother doesn’t send her a dog. . . she sends a crocodile. The crocodile hatches a plot to help Cora by masquerading as her so that Cora can do as she pleases, and that’s when the real fun begins. The hilarity that ensures is perfect for the preschool through early elementary crowd, and the story ends with lessons learned all around.
Brian Floca’s illustrations are perfect for this tale, and is appropriate for these early chapter books, they are copious. Every two page spread has at least one illustration, and the illustrations are often of the picture book variety, taking up an entire page. Princess Cora is demure but grows into her spunk, the nanny and queen are stern, and the king is quite frantic. Floca communicates this beautifully through facial expressions and body language. And the crocodile is the perfect combination of silliness and ferocity, with googly eyes and a gargantuan, toothy smile.
At seven short chapters, this book is an ideal first chapter book for children with short attention spans for longer, complicated plots. My boys loved it, and I did, too. Laura Amy Schlitz is obviously no one trick pony of a writer. Highly Recommended. (Candlewick, 2017)