The title and opening sentence of Kathy Kacer and Juliana Kolesova’s The Brave Princess and Me invite comparison to a fairy tale: “There once was a princess who lived in Greece.” In fact, the book is “inspired by a true story,” that of Princess Andrew of Greece and Denmark (born Princess Alice of Battenberg). During the Nazi occupation of her adopted country, Princess Alice made the courageous choice to shelter the widow and daughter of Haimaki Cohen, a prominent Greek Jew who had served in the nation’s parliament. Yad Vashem designated her as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.
Princess Alice had been a troubling figure to her family. Deaf from birth, she was also diagnosed with mental illness and hospitalized, although the accuracy of that diagnosis might be questioned today. Kacer suggests that the princess’s sense of difference due to her disabilities made her sympathetic to the plight of Greece’s persecuted Jews. The book narrates the inspiring rescue from the perspective of the young Tilde Cohen.
Kacer’s book simplifies the story of Princess Alice for young readers. She avoids any direct mention of Alice’s instability, but she does allude to the sad reality that deafness was stigmatized and sometimes associated with cognitive defects. In a conversation with Tilde, Alice reveals that she often conceals her inability to hear, as she has confronted the assumption that “People often think if you’re deaf you’re not very smart.” In the book’s climactic scene, which is partly based on historical evidence, the princess prevents the gestapo from searching her home by exaggerating her inability to communicate and by acting delusional. In reality, Alice was proficient at reading lips.
Alice’s experience with disability gives her a deep sense of empathy, which largely explains why she risks her life in order to save the Cohens. However, the text is not subtle, and at times, strains to convince readers of its valuable lesson.
Kolesova’s illustrations are photorealist in style. While some readers will appreciate their documentary quality, others may note a lack of subtlety, particularly in her character’s dramatic, if not exaggerated, facial expressions. I found the rendering of shadowy interiors and ordinary household objects to be more evocative of the era and better at connecting the reader more intimately with the past.
Kacer’s words and Kolesova’s pictures are certainly well-paired, offering a clear setting and accessible narrative about a princess who uses her power, and her ostensible weakness, to protect the most vulnerable subjects in her kingdom.
Emily Schneider writes about literature, feminism, and culture for Tablet, The Forward, The Horn Book, and other publications, and writes about children’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Languages and Literatures.